Concern over the alarming growth in the number of people without health insurance has given rise to the formation of an unlikely coalition of 12 national organizations who have joined forces to seek solutions to the problem.

Called Covering the Uninsured, the coalition spans the political spectrum from the AFL-CIO to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Other members include the Service Employees International Union, AARP, and business groups that represent for-profit hospitals.

According to data released by the coalition at a press conference on Feb. 12, more than two million workers lost their health insurance last year, bringing the total of the nation’s uninsured to 40.3 million. That number is expected to grow by as much as 3.4 million before unemployment begins to decline later this year. For every 100 people who lose their jobs, the number of uninsured grows by 85.

All indications show the recession is making a bad problem worse. But even during the economic boom of the 1990s, the number of uninsured grew by 10 million.

In a statement endorsing Covering the Uninsured, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “Eighty percent of the uninsured either have jobs or have parents or spouses with jobs. We are talking about 32 million people in working families that do not have health insurance. They work hard every day but the system squeezed them out.”

Sweeney said too many families suffer because our nation has ignored the crisis of the uninsured, leaving them to deal on their own with the costs and consequences of this crisis. “We are here today to pledge our organizations to covering the uninsured. Our nation’s leaders should do the same,” he said.

Although most of the increase last year is due to the recession that began last March, the 11 percent increase in the cost of health insurance in 2001 has added to the carnage.

Premiums for employer-provided insurance now average $2,650 for singles and $7,053 for families. According to bankruptcy experts, the inability to pay medical bills is a top reason for one out of two personal bankruptcy filings.

In a joint opinion piece in the Feb. 12 Washington Post, Sweeney and Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue wrote: “For all our miracle cures that are saving lives every day, we have failed to solve our biggest health problem – the fact that so many Americans lack access to even the most basic care because they lack health coverage.”

While admitting that coalition members have “different perspectives on the problem,” and will “undoubtedly disagree on specific solutions,” Sweeney and Donahue said their “unified goal” is to make the problem of the uninsured our nation’s top health priority and to help America solve it.

“Today, we are urging our fellow Americans and elected leaders in Washington to join with us and begin the hard work needed to solve this problem,” their joint statement said.

The Covering the Uninsured Coalition will begin airing a series of four television ads in several cities, beginning Feb. 12. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has given the coalition 10 million dollars to pay for the ads. According to Sweeney and Donahue the uninsured live sicker and die younger, with uninsured women who develop breast cancer twice as likely to die as their counterparts with health insurance. They said uninsured men are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed at a later – and potentially deadly – stage for colon cancer and that the uninsured are four times more likely to experience an avoidable hospital stay or visit to the emergency room.


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries