Ga. uninsured rate remains high; U.S. number dips

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday that the estimated number of Americans without health insurance in 2011 fell from almost 50 million, or 16.3 percent,  to 48.6 million, or 15.7 percent.

It’s the first drop in that uninsured number since 2007.

Georgia’s three-year average of uninsured, meanwhile, has hit 19.7 percent, the fifth-highest rate in the country, the Census Bureau figures showed.

Last year’s three-year state average rate was 19 percent, sixth-highest in the U.S.

Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said that the overall uninsured trend has flattened out. “People are no longer losing coverage at the same rate” as during the recession, he said.

Another reason is that health care cost inflation has moderated, thus making coverage more affordable, Custer said.

On Tuesday, an employer survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust found that premiums for family coverage rose this year by just 4 percent, historically a low figure.

The drop in the national uninsured numbers was partly driven by a major reduction among those aged 19 to 25, from 29.8 percent in 2010 to 27.7 percent in 2011, the Census Bureau said.

That’s mostly due, experts say, to the Affordable Care Act’s allowing families to keep adult children on their health plans until age 26.

“I have no other explanation for that decline than the health law because the economy has not been particularly kind to that age group, and it’s not likely that they all got great jobs,” Elise Gould, director of health policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, told Kaiser Health News.

That age group is one of the highest uninsured cohorts, Custer added.

The Heritage Foundation said that despite the decline in the uninsured, the number of those without health insurance remains high, KHN reported. The group acknowledged the health reform law had increased the number of young people with insurance. But it warned the provision could “cause employers to stop offering coverage, and will likely increase premiums.”

The Census Bureau also reported the percentage of Americans covered by private health insurance in 2011 was not statistically differ­ent from 2010, at 63.9 percent. This is the first time in the last 10 years that the rate of pri­vate insurance coverage has not decreased.

The percentage of people covered by government health insurance increased to 32.2 percent  in 2011 from 31.2 percent in 2010.

The South continued to have the highest percentage of uninsured among the regions, though its rate dropped from 19.1 percent to 18.3 percent in 2011, the Census report showed.

Georgia also has  the fifth-highest poverty rate in the country, the Census Bureau said.

The state’s uninsured rate remains high as Georgia faces a major decision on whether to expand its Medicaid program as called for under the health reform law. Expansion would add more than 600,000 Georgians to the Medicaid rolls, starting in 2014.

“These new numbers continue to highlight the need for state leaders to implement health care reform to expand access to health coverage in Georgia,” said Tim Sweeney, the director of health policy at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, in a statement Wednesday. “In particular, Georgia should prepare to expand Medicaid to cover potentially one-third of Georgians currently without coverage.”