Taxpayers and healthcare providers in New York City pay an estimated $612 million each year for healthcare services for the uninsured and publicly insured, most of them low-wage workers and members of their families, according to a study released by the Mailman School of Public Health. The report describes the characteristics and health expenditures of low-wage workers in New York City and estimates the healthcare bill associated with these workers and members of their families. Low-wage workers in New York are disproportionately Hispanic, and 57 percent of Hispanic low-wage workers lack health insurance.
The Mailman School report was conducted and released through the Columbia Center for the Health of Urban Minorities, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities.
Says Sherry Glied, chair of the Mailman School Department of Health Policy and Management, and principal investigator on the study, "The findings indicate that low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable to being uninsured. In New York City, there are nearly 1 million people who are either uninsured low-wage workers or members of families that include an uninsured low-wage worker." More than 66 percent of all uninsured full-time, full-year workers in New York City are low-wage workers.
The study, which Glied co-authored with Mailman colleague and technician Bisundev Mahato, points out that low-wage workers differ from higher-wage workers in many ways. They are younger than other workers, and a disproportionate number of them have never married. Almost one half are women. The results also confirm that low-wage workers in New York are disproportionately drawn from minority groups and from the non-citizen population.
Results of the study also indicate that:
- Job-based coverage for low-wage workers has eroded, falling more than 1.5 percentage points in New York City just since the late 1990s.
- More than two thirds of uninsured low-wage workers are employed in the retail or service industries or in sales and service occupations in other industries.
- Only 38 percent of low-wage workers obtain health insurance from their employers.
- Factors that increase the probability of being a low-wage worker, and of being uninsured, also increase the probability of being publicly insured.
"While several existing policy initiatives are particularly concerned about getting coverage to low-wage workers," says Glied, "these efforts unfortunately, have not come close to solving the problem of covering this population."