Survey Says: Mass. Uninsured Population Down 19%

By | August 29, 2006

The number of Massachusetts residents without health insurance dropped 19 percent in the past two years, according to a survey released this week by the state’s Division of Health Care Finance and Policy.

The survey, taken every two years, found an estimated 372,000 residents do not have health insurance. That’s down dramatically from the estimated 460,000 residents who lacked health insurance in 2004.

In one of the report’s few troubling trends, the rate of uninsured non-Hispanic black residents in Massachusetts rose from 7.5 percent to 13.4 percent over the two-year period.

Dick Powers, spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, called the trend an “eye opener.”

“It’s something that we want to take a look at in the very near future to see what the reason is,” he said.

Overall the state’s rate of uninsured is now 6 percent, among the best in the nation, officials said.

Gov. Mitt Romney, vacationing in Alaska, said those numbers should keep dropping as the state’s landmark health care law takes effect.

“As the state more fully launches its Commonwealth Care program and as more affordable health insurance products become available, Massachusetts will continue to show progress in lowering the number of uninsured,” Romney said in a written statement.

Health care activists were a bit more cautious, but also said that if the numbers are true, it’s a good sign.

The estimate comes ahead of the release of a federal estimate that is traditionally higher. Two years ago the federal estimate put the number of uninsured in Massachusetts at about 730,000.

If the federal estimate also shows a decline, even if it is higher than the state estimate, it would reflect a heartening trend, according to John McDonough, executive director of Health Care for All.

“What’s important is the trend,” he said. “If the trend is downward, that’s mighty good news.”

McDonough said he believed the best estimate for the number of uninsured in 2004 came from a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, which put the number at around 532,000.

He credited much of the decline on the administration’s efforts to enroll as many residents as possible in MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program.

State health officials estimated that over the last 12 months the state has enrolled about 50,000 people who were eligible for MassHealth benefits, but were unenrolled.

The number of uninsured is down among both adults and children, according to the state’s estimates.

For adults under 65, the uninsured rate fell from 10.6 to 8.7 percent while the rate for children without insurance declined from 3.2 to 2.5 percent. The majority of residents, about 83 percent, get coverage through their employers compared with 79.4 percent two years ago.

Earlier this year lawmakers approved _ and Romney signed _ a landmark health care law requiring everyone in Massachusetts be insured by July 2007. The law also provides subsidies and sliding-scale premiums to get poor and low-income residents into health plans.

Those deemed able to afford insurance but who still refuse will face increasing tax penalties.

The survey also found:

Every region in the state saw a drop in the percentage of uninsured with the northeastern portion showing the strongest gains.

Blacks were the only group to see an increase of the uninsured, rising from 7.5 percent to 13.4 percent.

Among Hispanics, the uninsured rate dropped from 15.1 to 12.8 percent while for whites it decreased from 6.3 to 5.1 percent and among Asians it dipped from 4.0 to 3.1 percent.

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