State’s uninsured rate up by a fraction, report says

Georgia’s uninsured rate ticked up slightly, to 13.4 percent, in 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau reported this week. That’s the fourth-highest rate in the nation.

The state trails only Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska. The uninsured rate in Georgia was 12.9 percent in 2016.

Nationally, 8.8 percent of people, or 28.5 million, did not have health insurance at any point during 2017, the Census Bureau said. The uninsured rate and number of uninsured were not statistically different from 2016 (8.8 percent or 28.1 million).

The Georgia numbers are “mixed news,’’ said Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University. “The change is small enough, it may just be statistical noise.’’

Two forces worked to hold the uninsured rate fairly steady, Custer said. Individuals faced sharp premium increases for coverage in the insurance exchange, but the job market was good, so more people had opportunities for employer-based health benefits, he said.

“Other states have solidified their individual insurance markets and expanded Medicaid, and increased health care coverage,’’ Custer said.

One Southeastern state that expanded Medicaid, Kentucky,  has seen its percentage of people without coverage fall from 14.3 percent in 2013 to 5.4 percent in 2017. Georgia’s elected leaders have opted not to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, saying the move would be too costly.

About 17 percent of Americans were uninsured in 2010, the year the ACA was enacted.

The Census numbers are considered the gold standard for tracking who has health insurance because the survey samples are so large, Kaiser Health News reported.

Georgia was one of 14 states that saw a rise in its uninsured rate last year. The uninsured rate fell in three states — California, New York and Louisiana.

Critics of the ACA said the report revealed the law’s flaws, KHN reported. The report “is another reminder that Obamacare has priced insurance out of the reach of millions of working families,” Marie Fishpaw and Doug Badger of the Heritage Foundation said in a statement Wednesday. “Despite a growing economy and very low unemployment rate, the uninsured rate remains virtually unchanged.”

But supporters of the ACA see a different picture.

“These numbers show the resilience of the Affordable Care Act,” said Judith Solomon, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, KHN reported. She said people still value the coverage they receive from the health law even as it’s been under attack by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans who want to repeal it. “It’s good news because the numbers show the strength of the ACA but bad news in that we have not seen further progress.”

Republicans in general have long opposed the ACA. Last year they failed to push a repeal bill through Congress, though lawmakers did abolish the individual mandate, the controversial ACA requirement that people have health insurance.

Nationally, the Census reported:

** In 2017, the percentage of uninsured children under age 19 (5.4 percent) was not statistically different from the percentage in 2016.

** Between 2016 and 2017, the uninsured rate did not statistically change for any race or Hispanic origin group.

** In 2017, non-Hispanic Whites had the lowest uninsured rate among race and Hispanic-origin groups (6.3 percent). The uninsured rates for Blacks and Asians were 10.6 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively. Hispanics had the highest uninsured rate (16.1 percent).