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The Journal Gazette

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Friday, November 08, 2019 1:00 am

State lags in health care coverage

8.3% without insurance, more than neighbors

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Indiana's share of residents who lack medical insurance is larger than that of its neighbors.

The U.S. Census Bureau released data Thursday showing that 8.3% of Hoosiers were uninsured in 2018. Surrounding states had much lower uninsured rates last year: 5.4% in Michigan, 5.6% in Kentucky, 6.5% in Ohio and 7% in Illinois.

Rachel Blakeman, director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said Kentucky and Michigan had been aggressive in expanding their Medicaid programs.

“Kentucky is a real highlight in terms of getting uninsured folks covered. Now they're doing it through Medicaid, which is not a popular program in all parts of the United States,” Blakeman said in a telephone interview.

The Census Bureau said 43.5% of Kentucky residents had public health insurance last year – Medicaid, Medicare for people older than 65 or federal coverage for military veterans. The figure for Indiana was 33.8%.

“Generally speaking, Medicaid is not the preferred coverage for folks. You have limited availability of providers and the (physician) reimbursement rates are low,” Blakeman said. “The question then becomes would you rather have Medicaid than no insurance. And from a population perspective, I'd rather have more folks having health insurance with Medicaid than go without insurance.” 

The nationwide uninsured rate was 8.9% in 2018, the Census Bureau said. State rates ranged from 2.8% in Massachusetts to 17.7% in Texas.

Indiana's rate changed little from 2017, when it was 8.2%. It was 14.5% in 2013, the year before the federal government opened the insurance marketplace as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The law had required people to carry insurance or pay a tax penalty until Congress repealed the penalty beginning this year.

Blakeman said a strong economy also has played a big part in lowering uninsured rates as more people are working for employers that provide insurance.

The Census Bureau said 70.2% of Hoosiers had private health insurance last year, including through employers and the federal insurance marketplace, which offers income-based tax credits.

The nationwide rate was 67.5%.

bfrancisco@jg.net