More Than 50% of Poor Residents in Some Counties are Uninsured

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , August 5, 2009

As if anyone needs evidence the healthcare safety net isn't working, new state and county data from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2006 might be convincing.

Roughly one in four children and adults under age 65 in all income brackets had no health insurance of any kind in Texas, New York, Louisiana, and Florida. And roughly one in five had no coverage in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, and Oregon.

They were not enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare, children's health coverage or private insurance plans, nor did they receive any health benefits through the military.

Drilling down to the level of the nation's 3,140 counties, the interactive census tables show an even more disturbing picture for children and adults in families earning at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

In 218 counties with more than 250,000 residents under age 65, more than half of the residents in these low-income households had no health coverage.

In large Harris and Tarrant Counties in Texas, with residents under age 65 numbering 3.64 million and 1.56 million respectively, 51.4% and 50.5% of these low-income households were uninsured.

More than one in two residents of eight other counties with populations between 500,000 and one million had no health insurance. That includes Palm Beach County, FL (54.2%); Collin, Denton, and Travis counties, TX (62.5% 62.7%, and 50.4%); Fairfax County, VA (51.2%); Gwinnett County, GA (51.9%); Montgomery County, MD (52%), and Bergen County, N.J. (56%).

The percentage of poor households with no health insurance was the highest in Borden County, TX (79%). Borden County was followed by Los Alamos County, NM (78.7%); San Miguel County, CO (75.4%); Falls Church City, VA (74.5%); Glasscock County, TX (73.9%); Roberts County, TX (73.5%); Pitkin County CO, (72.2%); Putnam County, NY (70.6%); and McMullen County, TX (70.1%).

The agency's Small Area Health Insurance Estimates are used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in part to determine areas in need of breast and cervical cancer screening. "The data permit us to plan our various programs and help us make decisions on how to allocate resources," said Marcus Plescia, director of the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

This is the second year county-by-county health insurance statistics sorted by income bracket have been released.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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