POLITICS

Crisis: Nearly Five Million Adults Have Lost Insurance Since Sept. '08

08/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As President Barack Obama prepares to address the nation tonight, a new survey provides a boost to his claim that the health care system is at a perilous place and in need of reform. Since September of last year, nearly five million adults have lost their insurance.

A survey of more than 29,000 individuals in June by Gallup shows that 16 percent of Americans over the age of 18 are currently without health insurance. That number reflects what the survey's authors describe as a "small but measurable uptick in the percentage of uninsured adults."

Indeed, the average number of uninsured adults recorded by Gallup in 2008 was 14.8 percent. In September 2008, the monthly total recorded was at a yearly low of 13.9 percent.

While the difference in percentage may seem small, the aggregate number of additional uninsured is vast.

According to 2007 U.S. Census data, the population of those 18 years or older stood at 228,196,823. By using that figure, in September of 2008, the number of uninsured adults would have totaled approximately 31.7 million. Today, the figure stands at 36.5 million -- meaning that 4.8 million adults have, in less than a year, lost their insurance coverage.

That said, the percentage of uninsured adults stood at 16.6 percent in May 2009, meaning that the situation has improved slightly but still remains dire.

Digging deeper into the numbers, one gets the sense of just how tricky a political situation the health care debate poses for both parties. The demographic that stands to gain the most from an increase in insurance coverage happens to represent the fastest-expanding voting bloc. More than 41 percent of Hispanic Americans are uninsured, Gallup reports, which is by far the largest segment of the U.S. population. The next highest groups are those who make less than $36,000 a year (28.6 percent uninsured) and those aged 18 to 29 (27.6 percent).

It is hard not to see the benefits for the political party that steps up to help resolve the health care problems of millions of Hispanic and young Americans. Just as, conversely, it is conceivable that the party that is blamed for obstructing comprehensive reform could suffer serious consequences at the polls.

It should be noted just how comprehensive the Gallup is in recording this data. Officially titled the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the study involved conducting at least 1,000 tracking interviews each day and 178,000 since the beginning of the year. The maximum margin of sampling error is plus-or-minus one percentage point.

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