Thursday, September 10, 2009

Joint Press Release - Advocates to Congress: Don’t Delay, Pennsylvanians Need Health Care Now

September 10th –As the worst recession in decades stubbornly refuses to loosen its grip and the Commonwealth’s budget remains unresolved, data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau illustrates that far too many Pennsylvanians are paying a steep price for a troubled economy and for public policy choices that have denied too many children and families access to health care.

The Census Bureau data shows that 185,000 Pennsylvania children (6.7%) were uninsured in 2008. “As evidenced by the state’s tremendous leadership on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Pennsylvania children benefit when bipartisan leaders put children’s health care above politics,” noted Shelly Yanoff, Executive Director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. “Yet even with Pennsylvania’s tremendous progress to cover all kids, thousands of Pennsylvania children, particularly those in low-wage working families, remain without health insurance. Today’s data provides additional incentive for state legislators to ensure all kids have coverage and not allow Pennsylvania to backslide.”

The Census Bureau data indicates that 1,211,000 Pennsylvanians (9.7%) lacked health insurance in 2007 and 2008, compare with 8.3% at the start of the decade (2000-01). The data illustrates that nationwide employer-provided health care has declined further, a reminder that for many workers health insurance is far from assured. In 2007-08 7,113,000 Pennsylvanians (68.7%) had employer-provided coverage, a share that has dropped with 325,000 fewer workers having employer coverage than in 2005-06 (a 4.3% drop) and a nearly 11% drop compared to the 7.9 million Pennsylvania workers who had such coverage in 2000-01. (The Census figures average two years of survey data in order to improve the reliability of the estimates.)

“Today is less about dissecting numbers than remembering the woman who can’t get prenatal care, the mom working two jobs, neither with health insurance, praying that her cold won’t become something worse, and the father whose cancer treatment has thrown his family into a world of financial and emotional unknowns, in part because they are uncertain what his health insurance will cover and if he’ll even have coverage if he becomes too sick to work,” said Berry Friesen public affairs manager for the PA Health Access Network. “It’s an urgent reminder for every day citizens to seize the megaphone from high-priced lobbyists and to demand that health care be fixed and fixed now.”

The information the Census Bureau released today represents the only data available on state health insurance trends over time. (Additional Census data will be released on September 22, including data about health insurance status, but that data will not provide information on health insurance trends because health insurance questions were not asked on the American Community Survey (ACS) before 2008.)

“Today’s data reinforces the urgency of the economic and moral challenge to ensure that health care is assured, available and affordable for every Pennsylvanian” said the Rev. Amy Reumann, Executive Director, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania. “Enacting comprehensive health care reform is a pressing social justice issue.”

Erosion of employer-sponsored health insurance is the primary cause of the lost ground in coverage, which in turn reflects the rising cost of health care. Both employers and employees are having greater difficulty affording health insurance.

The number of uninsured individuals in Pennsylvania would have been even higher if public coverage had not increased from 12.5% of Pennsylvanians in 2000-2001 to 17.2% in 2007-2008, which compensated for some of the losses in employer-sponsored insurance over the same period.

The number of uninsured in Pennsylvania is likely to be much higher in 2009 because of accelerated job loss in the state resulting from the recession. The Commonwealth lost nearly 75,000 jobs in 2008 compared to late 2007 but has already lost more than 128,000 jobs through July of this year.

“Unemployment has claimed the paychecks of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania workers and thousands more are anxious about the fall out of the challenging economy, as well as the unresolved state budget ,” reminded Carol Goertzel of PathWays, PA. “The continuing tide of job loss will not soon ease - making it more essential that health care reform be enacted now to lessen the fiscal burden on workers and employers alike.”

As Pennsylvania’s budget battle continues to threaten funding for a wide range of Pennsylvania’s supports for families and children, it should also be noted that additional families are in need. The Census data also shows that Pennsylvania’s poverty rate rose from 9.1% in 2000-01 to 10.7% in 2007-08 (statistically significant). “This data shows just how tough times have gotten for families. Lawmakers need to get over the fact that this year is tough, because difficult decisions will continue in 2010 and 2011. They have to find a way to support critical services, including being open to raising revenues, as Pennsylvania’s safety net will be needed more than ever,” said Cathy Palm, statewide child advocate.

(Note: The Census will release American Community Survey, ACS, data that includes breakdowns for child poverty, county specifics, and other details on September 22).

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CONTACT:
Colleen McCauley, 215.563.5848 x33, colleen@pccy.org
Kathy Fisher, 215.563.5848 x27, kathyfisher@pccy.org

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