Washington's uninsured: One million people

Dec 13, 2011

Losing your job often means losing your health insurance – and that’s reflected in the latest numbers of uninsured people in Washington. It’s approaching one million, or 14.5 percent of the population, according to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

Unemployment isn’t the only factor driving the loss of insurance. The bigger force at work is the rising cost of medical care, which is passed on through insurance rates, says Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

The big question now is, what will happen if the federal health care law stays intact?

In the past two years, Kreidler says, part-time workers in particular have been losing coverage -- because their employer either dropped the insurance option, or else added higher expenses:

"At some point, particularly when you are dealing with people who are lower income, it becomes the breaking point, where they effectively say I will roll the dice and hope I don’t get sick, hope I'm not going to have a major medical crisis. And they don’t even take up the employers health insurance package, even when its offered to them, because the cost is just too high."

Kreidler’s office has been compiling its own report on the uninsured in Washington, approximately every two years, since 2006.

The latest study finds:

  • Nearly half the uninsured are under age 35;
  • the problem is worse in rural counties, particularly Yakima, Okanogan, and Grant; 
  • hospitals are reporting more charity care and more unpaid medical bills, and Kreidler says they typically shift those costs onto those with insurance.

 

The employment sectors hit the hardest include no big surprises: hospitality, agriculture, construction, and retail.

Nationally, a Gallup Poll and a survey the Commonwealth Fund (of California) found similar trends.

Getting worse, even if the economy turns around

That's the prediction of Kreidler, a Democrat with a long history working on health issues. 

However, if the federal Affordable Care Act stays intact – with federal subsidies kicking in for low income adults in January 2014 – then the uninsured rate would drop by about half.

But that's only part of the problem.

At that point, Democrats and many experts say America can get serious about the deeper and harder problem -- which the federal law left for later: Rising medical costs.

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