More than 1 in 4 Americans affected by lack of health insurance in 2011

April 19, 2012, 3:31 p.m.

A poll found that more than a quarter of Americans went without health insurance at some point during 2011. (Credit: Peter Kemmer/Flickr Creative Commons)

One in four Americans between the ages of 19 and 64 were without health insurance at some point during 2011, a new poll found.

The poll by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit that analyzes health care issues, found that of 2,100 people surveyed, 26 percent were insurance-less at some point, reported Reuters.

That equals about 48 million people, Reuters added.

The majority of those people, according to the poll – 69 percent – were without health insurance for a year or longer. A majority 57 percent were uninsured for two years or more.

Most people (67 percent) who lost their safety net did so because they'd either lost or changed their jobs and the affordable, available options are few. People also lost it because their employers stopped offering benefits (nine percent) or they could no longer afford it (seven percent).

It's difficult to overstate the importance of finances when it comes to access to affordable medical care: The poll's findings said 62 percent of people who tried to buy a policy during the past three years found it "very difficult or impossible" because coverage was so expensive.

Thirty-one percent were turned down, charged more or had a condition excluded from coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and 45 percent never bought a plan, primarily because it was too costly.

And not having a plan often means people stop pursuing health care – while 92 percent of people who were insured throughout 2011 had a regular doctor, the same was only true of 46 percent of people who were uninsured for a year or more.

As far as basic health tests, 83 percent of people without an insurance gap got their blood pressure checked in 2011, and 70 percent got their cholesterol looked at; conversely, only 51 percent and 33 percent, respectively, of people who'd been out of insurance for a year or more did the same.

The outlook is even more bleak recommended cancer screenings: Of those who never lost insurance, 72 percent got a Pap test, 74 percent got a mammogram and 57 percent got screened for colon cancer. Compare that to the respective percentages for people who were uninsured for a year or more: 46, 28 and nine.

Study author Sara Collins told Reuters that the gaps in health coverage are perennial problems that are likely to continue even as the economy grows, particularly in the individual and small group markets.

President Barack Obama's landmark and controversial Affordable Care Act aims to close some of these gaps; the Commonwealth study also pointed out, though, that only 63 percent of adults between the age of 19 and 64 are aware that young adults can join their parents' policies and remain there until they are 26.

The poll found that only 46 percent of adults ages 19-25 took advantage of that provision, and only 23 percent of parents had an adult child enroll on their plan.

The legislation is also currently up for review in the Supreme Court. Brietta Clark, a professor of law at Loyola Law School who specializes in health care law and access issues, told OnCentral in March that the dissent at the heart of the Supreme Court case is twofold. First, opponents claim that the individual mandate that as of 2014 would require that everyone buy insurance or pay a fine is an inappropriate exercise of federal power.

The second prong has to do with the expansion of Medicaid, which Clark called a federal versus state issue. Some opponents call the government's requirement of states that Medicaid be expanded "coercive."

Nina Vaccaro, the executive director of the Southside Coalition of Community Health Clinics, also told OnCentral that striking down the individual mandate would leave little incentive to create affordable options to the people that need them, and that a loss of the Medicaid expansion would be "devastating," for South L.A. in particular.

The court is expected to make its decision in June.

Photo by Peter Kemmer via Flickr Creative Commons.

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