WASHINGTON -- With the future of the healthcare law emerging as a major campaign issue this fall, a new survey has found that more than a quarter of adults ages 19 to 64 in the United States lacked health insurance for at least some time in 2011.
And the vast majority of those people – nearly 70 percent – had been without coverage for more than a year, according to the study by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund, a leading authority on health policy.
The holes in health insurance were a driving force in President Obama’s push for the controversial healthcare overhaul he signed in 2010. Close to 50 million people in America now lack coverage, a number that has been rising as employers eliminate jobs or cut back the health benefits they offer their workers.
Research, including the new Commonwealth Fund survey, indicates that people without health insurance often skip needed medical care and do not get vital preventive services such as cancer screenings.
According to the new survey, nearly three quarters of women ages 40 to 64 with health insurance had had a mammogram in the previous two years. In contrast, just 28% of women in that age group who had been without insurance for a year or more received a mammogram.
The new healthcare law is slated to guarantee health coverage to all Americans starting in 2014, when insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions and low- and moderate income Americans will be able to get subsidies to get a health plan.
The Commonwealth Fund study predicted that the coverage gaps would be reduced as a result of the new law.
But it is unclear if the coverage expansion will ever happen. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether the law is unconstitutional. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal the law if he is elected president in November.
Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, has said he wants to replace the current law. But he has not said whether he would guarantee health coverage in any replacement.
Romney last month told NBC “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno that people with pre-existing medical conditions who have had insurance before would be able to stay insured under his plan. But he suggested the large number of Americans identified by the Commonwealth Fund survey who have been without insurance for some time would be out of luck.
“Well, if they’re 45 years old, and they show up, and say, I want insurance because I’ve got a heart disease, it’s like, ‘Hey guys, we can’t play the game like that,’” Romney told Leno. “You’ve got to get insurance when you’re well, and if you get ill, then you’re going to be covered.”