by | The Journal Gazette
The number of Hoosiers without health insurance changed little leading up to the economic collapse, but local officials have little doubt those numbers have climbed in the past two years.
Indiana ranked 15th in the nation in 2007 for residents with health insurance, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures. An estimated 13 percent of Indiana’s population younger than 65 had no health insurance, down from about 14 percent in previous years.
The lowest uninsured rate was 7.8 percent in Massachusetts; Texas was highest at 26.8 percent, according to the data.
Allen County estimates have remained unchanged in recent years, with 13.8 percent of residents uninsured in 2007, according to the data.
While the numbers do not reflect the possible effect of the recession, they are not a good sign, said Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner. She noted that 16.2 percent of Allen County residents ages 18 to 64 were uninsured in 2007.
“These numbers were pretty depressing,” she said. “Just think about that, 16 percent of residents 18 to 64, that’s a lot of people now.”
Indeed, that’s 35,118 Allen County adults. The total number of uninsured county residents younger than 65 is 42,863.
McMahan is also concerned about those who have insurance but are on plans with high deductibles, which will make them less likely to seek preventive care, she said.
She fears people who need to see the doctor for diabetes treatment or to get a colonoscopy will forgo those visits. People will make sure they get their medicine but will not get preventive care, she said.
“You worry about those things starting to lag,” McMahan said. “You’re not going to see it for a few years, but you will down the road.”
Meanwhile, places such as HealthVisions Fort Wayne, a health improvement organization started by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, are seeing an influx of the newly uninsured asking for help.
“It’s not only the poor and underserved; it’s hitting the middle class, as well,” said Renatta Williams, director of the Fort Wayne facility.
HealthVisions provides some preventive health services for the needy and also can direct people to where they go if they are sick.
When the recession started, the organization began getting more and more calls from people who needed help.
“We get lots of phone calls from people who just don’t know where to go, people who got laid off and do not know where to go,” Williams said. “We try to keep them healthy, and if they’re sick we refer them to somewhere else.”
Other Northeast Indiana counties – including Kosciusko, Noble and Adams – had a dramatic decrease in the number of people without health insurance leading up to 2007, but it’s unclear how the economy has affected those numbers.
Under a new law that will begin in 2014, almost all Americans will be required to buy health insurance or pay a penalty tax. The Obama administration has estimated that the law, aimed at people who cannot afford or obtain coverage, will help 32 million people get health insurance, according to the Washington Post.
The data released by the Census Bureau combines survey data with population estimates and information from aggregated federal tax returns, the food stamp program, and Medicaid and Chldren’s Health Insurance Program records.
This article was originally published in The Journal Gazette.