The American people would prefer that the government shift the focus from health care reform to the economy, according to numerous new polls. Far more Americans are uninsured than unemployed, but the increase in unemployment over the last couple years has been more significant than the increase in the number of people without health insurance. About 16% of Americans are uninsured, which is an increase from just under 15% in 2008. But the number of unemployed people doubled between December 2007 and December 2009. Colorado jobs haven’t been as hard-hit by the recession, but unemployment here climbed from 4.9% in 2008 to 7.3% in 2009.
It’s possible for a family – albeit a lucky one – to live for many years without health insurance. If they don’t get sick or injured, they will be ok. Granted, they might not have a lot of peace of mind, and most of them would rather have health insurance if they could afford it, but living without health insurance is a very different situation from living without a job.
Even the most prepared families usually have only a few months of cash savings, and many have little savings at all. So a job loss takes a tremendous toll, and tends to do so immediately. Not having health insurance is definitely a worry, but it likely takes a backseat to not being able to pay for housing and food.
Although there are still a lot more Americans without health insurance than without jobs (16% versus 10%), the recession has increased worries about job security for people who are currently employed, and just about everyone who had their retirement funds invested in the stock market has taken a hit over the last couple years. It all adds up to a lot of people who are feeling insecure about their financial future, and that can be a much more pressing need than concerns about health care costs.
For people who are uninsured and sick, health care reform is likely still a huge priority. But for people who are healthy, their overall economic stability is understandably a more pressing concern right now.
A good deal of President Obama’s state of the union address last night was focused on his plans for economic recovery, and this makes sense. But bringing health care costs into line with what the rest of the world spends should still be a priority, and I hope that we continue to look for solutions that will eventually result in affordable, accessible health care for all Americans.