The number of Washington residents with no health insurance grew to 990,000 at the end of 2012, according to a new report from state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. Approximately 14.5 percent of people were uninsured before 2014.
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The report contains county-by-county data on the uninsured and the number of people eligible for free or low-cost health care in Washington state.
The report also examines how higher poverty rates lead to insurance disparities by race and ethnicities. The percentage of uninsured Asians was reported to be 14 percent, compared to 11 percent white, 17 percent Black, 28 percent American Indian/Aslaska Native, and 30 percent Hispanic/Latino.
Immigration status was found to be another major factor of people who are uninsured—Washington residents who are not U.S. citizens were far more likely to be uninsured than other residents. For example, 40.7 percent of immigrants who are not U.S. citizens are uninsured, compared to 17.2 percent of immigrants who have become citizens through the naturalization process.
Disparities were attributed to two factors. For one, employer-sponsored insurance is less available for immigrants. While about a third of United States citizens have employer-sponsored coverage, only 55-61.2 percent of non-citizens have employer-sponsored coverage.
The other factor is eligibility or perceived eligibility. Many immigrants are ineligible for public programs, particularly those who lack documentation, have temporary lawful statuses, or have recently gained lawful statuses. Other immigrants may actually be eligible for public coverage, but suffer from the misconception that this coverage is not available to them, the report found.
“The growth in the uninsured leading up to full implementation of the Affordable Care Act only makes the case for reform stronger,” Kreidler said in a statement. “I’ve long held that our current health care system was unsustainable and these numbers illustrate the crisis we faced.”
Among the report’s findings, from 2010 through 2012:
• The number of uninsured people in Washington grew by more than 44,000.
• Four out of five people with individual insurance were underinsured.
• Employer-sponsored coverage grew increasingly scarce.
• Uncompensated care ballooned to nearly $1 billion per year.
Counties with a particularly high percentage of uninsured residents include: Yakima (24.1 percent), Grant (20.4 percent), and Chelan (19.9 percent).
With the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act now in effect, the uninsured rate is expected to drop from 14.5 percent to 6 percent by 2016 and approximately 805,400 low- and middle-income families to be eligible for free or low-cost health coverage through the state’s Exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder, according to the Office of the Washington State Insurance Commissioner.
The report also found that:
• Eighty percent of people with individual health insurance were underinsured—meaning they had plans that only paid for 25-40 percent of their medical costs.
• Early provisions of the Affordable Care Act prevented an estimated 100,000 people from joining the ranks of the uninsured.
• Charity care and unpaid medical bills at hospitals and health care providers’ offices continued to hover around a $1 billion a year in Washington.
• More than 323,700 people have enrolled in health coverage as of Jan. 23, 2014.
“For many families who have struggled to get or keep health coverage, health reform couldn’t come soon enough,” Kreidler said. “Regardless of how you feel about ‘Obamacare,’ it’s hard to argue that we’re not making progress in stopping the growth of uninsured or that the status quo was sustainable. Before health reform, we had hundreds of thousands of people living one bad diagnosis away from bankruptcy.”
The Office of the Washington State Insurance Commissioner oversees the state’s insurance industry to protect consumers and make sure that companies, agents and brokers follow the rules.