A fraying safety net

Oct 7, 1998 at 12:00 am

The number of Americans without health insurance jumped alarmingly last year, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, and Michigan's increase nearly led the list.

The state's uninsured leapt by 276,000 people from 1996 to 1997, second only to the increase in California. This brings the total number of uninsured Michigan residents to 1,133,000, or nearly 12 percent of the population.

In the past, Michigan had relatively few uninsured. But, says Daniel Luria, an analyst with the Industrial Technology Institute in Ann Arbor, "When the Big Three downsize, even if all those workers find jobs in manufacturing, you're going from 100 percent coverage to much lower numbers."

Another reason for the jump in uninsured is Gov. John Engler's elimination of welfare for thousands of recipients. Adults who are cut off from cash assistance may continue on Medicaid, but only for one year.

According to a Medicaid spokesperson, Michigan recipients dropped by 29,186 from fiscal 1996 to 1997.

"There's an awful lot of low-income families where the children have Medicaid but the adults are left out," says Marguerite Kowaleski, an advocate with the Oakland County Welfare Rights Organization.

Even with last year's increase, Michigan's percentage population without insurance is below the national average, nearly one out of six Americans, or 43.2 million people.

On Oct. 14, the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care, a nurses' and doctors' health reform group, will sponsor a talk on these issues by Judith Shindul-Roths-
child, RN, a professor at Boston College.

Shindul-Rothschild argues for a national, government-sponsored system like Canada's. "Unemployment is at a historic low. If things are difficult now, imagine what will happen when the economy crashes," she says.

Her talk is at 4 p.m. at First Congregational Church, Woodward and Forest. Call 313-841-6948.