Nation

Monday, June 9, 2003 at 1:00am

Economic recovery is taking hold, and the stock market has taken a positive turn. But a lot of people in this country are still struggling financially.

While millions of middle-income Americans have felt the strain of corporate layoffs and 401(k) losses, the greatest burden for many middle-income Americans is having to live without health insurance.

Republicans and Democrats, in the wind-up to the presidential election next year, are advancing proposals to provide health insurance for the estimated 41 million people who have been without coverage at some point in the past year. Plans offered range from the bold but excessively expensive to the inadequate but prudent. Whether you look at this monumental social problem from the perspective of a humanitarian or a hard-boiled pragmatist, the need for a solution is clear.

The need for health insurance is not limited to the elderly or the poor. In fact, 57 percent of the newly uninsured are from households with an annual income of $75,000 or more. According to Ken Pollack of Families USA, "Over the course of the last two years, almost one out of three non-elderly Americans were uninsured for some period of time, so this reaches very deeply into the middle class."

This problem also extends beyond the ranks of the unemployed. Insurance premiums are rising. Small-business owners, in too many cases, simply cannot afford adequate coverage for themselves or their employees. Five years ago, company-sponsored health insurance cost about $3,800 per employee. It now costs almost $6,000 per employee

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