Census: More covered by health insurance; U.S. income slide slows

More of the nation, especially young people, had health insurance coverage last year compared to 2011, new data show.

The percentage of people in the U.S. without health insurance coverage decreased in 2012 to 15.4 percent, down from 15.7 percent in 2011, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Ohio the percent uninsured was estimated at 12.3 percent, better than the national average. That was down from 13.7 percent in 2011, but the change was not statistically significant because of a larger margins of error for the state numbers. More precise data for the state and local levels will be released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

In an indication that the nation’s economy may be finally stabilizing for more people, the data also showed that for the first time in five years neither median income nor poverty figures got worse from the previous year.

Real median household income was $51,000 in 2012, unchanged from the previous year.

Similarly, the poverty rate of 15 percent, and the number of people in poverty, 46.5 million, was not significantly different from 2011. In 2012, a family of four was considered in poverty if its annual income was less than $23,283.

The decrease in the percent uninsured nationally was “the most significant change” from 2011 in the new report, according to David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division.

The data indicate that changes in federal law may have contributed to the decrease. Young people, who have benefited from both changes in Medicaid law and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, have shown the largest gains in health insurance coverage in recent years.

The uninsured rate for young people 19 to 25 years of age, who can now be covered by their parents’ insurance because of the ACA, has fallen by 4.2 percentage points since 2009, to hit 27.2 percent last year.

And the uninsured rate for children under 19, who can be eligible for Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance program (CHIP) has also decreased in recent years, falling to 9.2 percent last year.

A little over two thirds, 67.4 percent, of the U.S. population are estimated to be covered by private health insurance. That was not significantly different from 2011, but the number has been falling for more than a decade. In 2000, four in five were covered by private health insurance.

The same trend is true for employment-based health coverage. In 2000, 72.5 percent of the population was covered by work-sponsored health insurance. Last year, that number fell to 58.4 percent.

At the same time, government-based health coverage — which includes Medicaid, Medicare and military coverage — showed an increase for the sixth consecutive year, reaching 32.6 percent in 2012.

Bryan Bucklew, president of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, said he’s not surprised by the data. As the population ages, he noted, more people are eligible for Medicare, and in some areas, more people have become impoverished and eligible for Medicaid, “whether the expansion is happening or not.”

Additionally, Bucklew said that some long-term unemployed who lost employer-based coverage in recent years are becoming old enough to be picked up by Medicare.

But he said health insurance too often doesn’t translate into access to medical care, and people turn up in expensive emergency rooms because their insurance doesn’t cover needed treatment. And he said government fixes like the ACA are not the solution.

“Just because they have insurance doesn’t mean they have access to health care,” Bucklew said. “If you think we have a dysfunctional health care system, just adding more people to that dysfunctional health care system won’t solve the problem. We need to be making sure people get the right care at the right time at the right facility.”

Health Commissioner Jim Gross of Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County, however, said the state legislature needs to “do the right thing” and approve the Medicaid expansion that’s part of the ACA in order to make a significant difference in reducing the ranks of the uninsured.

The expansion, favored by Gov. John Kasich, would open up insurance to 30,000 people in Montgomery County alone, Gross said, and is “the way we need to create a healthier community.”

“It is clear due to the Affordable Care Act and the cost of health care, people are looking at their options, resulting in some shifting from one kind of insurance to another,” he said.

The enrollment period for the ACA’s Health Insurance Marketplace opens Oct. 1, he noted, “so now the shifting continues.”

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