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U.S. health care worse off, says consumer group

/ Source: The Associated Press

American workers are paying more for their health insurance and getting less than they were four years ago, and the situation is particularly acute in several states important in the presidential race, said a consumer group that has been critical of President Bush.

Families USA also noted that the number of people without insurance jumped significantly since Bush took office, with more than 85 million people uninsured at some point during 2003 or 2004.

Borrowing a comparison President Reagan made famous in the 1980 campaign, Families USA asked whether the nation is better off today than it was four years ago in terms of health care.

'No room for debate'

“Our analysis leaves no room for debate. The clear answer is no,” the group said in a report with a clear political message, although it never mentions Bush by name. Families USA planned events across the nation Tuesday to publicize its findings.

Ron Pollack, Families USA’s executive director, said the information was not shared in advance with any presidential campaign. The report’s findings, however, dovetail with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s criticism of Bush on health care.

Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bill Pierce said Families USA’s agenda “is purely partisan.”

Worker premiums rose 35.9 percent over the past four years, nearly three times the average growth in earnings, the report said. For family coverage, the employee’s portion of the average annual premium grew to $1,947 from $1,433, it said.

But in 26 states, including closely contested Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico and Wisconsin, premiums paid by workers increased more than 40 percent since 2000, the report said.

At the same time, the number of Americans younger than 65 who spent more than a quarter of their earnings on health care increased by 22 percent.

Rising numbers of uninsured

The number of people without health insurance in a two-year period also rose substantially during the Bush administration, from 72.5 million in 1999 and 2000 to 85.2 million during 2003-2004. The latter figure represents more than a third of Americans younger than 65, and thus not covered by the Medicare program.

In sheer numbers, 9.2 million Texans were uninsured at some point during the two years, topped only by California, which had 12.2 million people in the most recent period.

Other states where Kerry and Bush are campaigning hard that had large numbers of uninsured were Michigan (2.7 million), Ohio (2.9 million) and Pennsylvania (2.8 million).

Numerous studies have associated a lack of health insurance with worse health and earlier death, as well as delayed and inadequate medical care.

Typically, the Census Bureau reports the number of uninsured Americans as those without health insurance during an entire calendar year. The bureau reported last month that 45 million people were uninsured in 2003, up roughly 5 million people since 2000.