1.3M Arizonans lacking health coverage - East Valley Tribune: News

1.3M Arizonans lacking health coverage

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Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2007 1:25 am | Updated: 7:54 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

More than one out of every five Arizonans do not have health insurance, the fourth highest rate in the nation, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

New figures released Tuesday show in excess of 1.3 million state residents lacked any type of health coverage in 2006. That amounts to 20.9 percent of the population.

By comparison, the figure for 2005 was 19.6 percent.

National figures rose from 15.3 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent last year.

In Arizona, the increase occurred despite voter approval in 2000 of a measure to make more people eligible for publicly funded health care.

That year, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System provided free care for anyone with an income about one-third of the federal poverty level, roughly $6,000 a year at that time for a family of four. And that year, the Census Bureau reported that 16.1 percent of Arizonans were without coverage of any sort.

Now, the state covers everyone below the federal poverty level, a figure that was about $17,000 a year for a family of four and now has grown to more than $20,000.

Since 2000, AHCCCS enrollment has doubled, to more than 1 million last year.

January Contreras, health adviser to Gov. Janet Napolitano, said the rise in the number of uninsured may be directly attributable to the increasing cost of health insurance, a factor she said is leading to many companies — especially small ones — not providing their workers with coverage.

“Employers increasingly can’t afford the rising premiums, and so their employees are left to find coverage in the individual market, which can be a challenge,” Contreras said. She said any talk of reducing the number of uninsured has to address curbing the cost of coverage.

While the percentage of uninsured is up, the new statistics show that the percentage of Arizonans living below the federal poverty level declined from 2005 to 2006, from 15.2 percent to 14.4 percent.

That figure, though, still is above the national average of 12.3 percent of Americans living in poverty — a figure defined in 2006 as $20,000 a year for a family of four.

Similarly, the percentage of children living in poverty also declined, from 21.6 percent in 2005 to 20 percent last year. Nationally, the percentage went down two-tenths of a percentage point, to 17.4 percent.

The Census Bureau also is reporting that real median household income nationwide rose 0.7 percent from 2005 to 2006, up to $48,201.

It is impossible to compare that figure directly to Arizona, as the federal agency does not make state-by-state comparisons using the same methodology.

But the Census Bureau does report Arizona is one of 15 states where income is up. And another report by the agency using different data shows Arizona’s household income is increasing twice as fast as the national average.

A Napolitano aide credited the governor for the good news — and blamed the bad news on the Bush administration.

“The increase in income and the reduction in poverty reflect the governor’s efforts to help working families provide for their children,” said chief of staff Dennis Burke.

As to the hike in the number of uninsured, Burke said that can be solved with more money from Washington.

Specifically, Napolitano and other governors have been lobbying for a big increase in federal funds for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The Arizona version of that program, known as Kids Care, covers children above the federal poverty level — people automatically covered by AHCCCS — but below 200 percent of that figure, about $41,300 a year for a family of four, with the federal government providing $3 for every dollar of state funds.

President Bush wants to increase federal funding by $5 billion over the next five years; congressional budget staffers estimate it will take $14 billion just to cover increased costs.

And the Democrat-controlled Congress is looking for even more to expand coverage.

“The (Bush) administration is blocking the way for thousands of Arizona children to receive proper health care,” Burke said.

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