published Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Census shows drop in insured

  • photo
    Dr. Michele Pickett, with the Lifespring Community Health Clinic
    Photo by Allison Kwesell

From 2008 to 2010, the percentage of people with health insurance dropped in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, with Tennessee seeing the greatest percent decrease in the insured population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

However, all three states saw an increase in the percentage of children covered by health insurance.

Those numbers, released last week, mirror national statistics as families saw their income levels drop during the economic downtown, according to Kim Bailey, the research director with the health advocacy group Families USA.

Adults lost their health insurance as they lost their jobs, but their children became eligible for state insurance programs because the family now has a lower income, Bailey said.

"What this data really shows is that Medicaid is working as it was intended," Bailey said. "It is there to assist families as they need it."

Hamilton County insurance numbers closely tracked Tennessee numbers, with more than 16 percent of the population without health insurance in 2010, nearly 2 percent more than were uninsured in 2008, according to census figures. Of the three states, Georgia had the highest number of uninsured at nearly 22 percent in 2010, figures show.

In the tri-state area, data show Whitfield and Gordon counties had the highest level of uninsured people, with more than one in four people without health insurance.

The data is compiled from various sources such as the American Community Survey, census bureau population estimates, administrative records and 2000 census statistics, according to a news release from the U.S. Census Bureau. The data only tracks people under 65 because most people over 65 are covered by Medicare.

The latest data provides numbers by age groups, income levels and race, and those numbers will prove useful in tracking changes in coverage as the federal Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014, the news release noted.

Dr. Michele Pickett, executive director for LifeSpring Community Health in Chattanooga, said she is not surprised to hear about the latest insurance numbers. The primary clinic serves children and those under 21 years old, so they have seen the increase in children on TennCare whose parents have lost their jobs, she said.

The difficulty for the clinic is finding specialists who take TennCare, Tennessee's Medicaid program, Pickett said.

"Sometimes people think just because you have insurance that means you are covered when, in fact, the number of options is limited when your insurance is TennCare," Pickett said.

Many states, including Tennessee and Georgia, are considering if and how much they will expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

So far, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has said the state has not made any decisions whether it will expand TennCare, according to Times Free Press archives.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has been more outspoken in opposing a Medicaid expansion in his state. Last week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Deal told reporters that Georgia does not have money for an expansion, according to The Associated Press.

Georgia has the fifth-highest percentage of uninsured in the nation, behind Texas, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has said he is going to wait until after the November elections to make a decision for his state. His hope is that the GOP will gain control of the Senate -- it already controls the House -- and be able to repeal the health care act.

But eventually, everyone needs some form of health care, Bailey said.

"What we know about the uninsured is their care is more expensive and some of those costs get shifted to people who have insurance," Bailey said. "Someone has to pay."

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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