Dallas News, August 29, 2007: Census: Texas has highest percentage of uninsured

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Texas again ranks No. 1 with the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation primarily due to the state’s growing Hispanic population, according to a report issued Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Based on the three-year average from 2004 to 2006, Texas had an uninsured population rate of 24 percent. New Mexico and Louisiana had the next-highest rates, each topping 20 percent.

Minnesota and Hawaii came in at the bottom, both below 10 percent.

Looking at the total number of people, Texas has 5.5 million without health insurance coverage. That’s second only to the larger state of California, which has 6.7 million uninsured people. Nationally, 45.1 million people have no health coverage.

The data come as little surprise to North Texas health industry executives; Texas had the highest percentage of uninsured in last year’s census report as well.

The state’s large Hispanic population is at the center of its health insurance problem, according to the Texas Medical Association.

In Texas, noncitizens are almost three times as likely to be uninsured as U.S. citizens.

Immigrants, many of whom are Hispanic, often work in industries less likely to offer health insurance, such as construction, the association says.

Nationally, the percentage of uninsured Hispanics jumped to 34.1 percent more than a third of the Hispanic population in the U.S. That came to a total of 15.3 million Hispanic people in 2006, according to the report.

The Census Bureau said it does not distinguish between Hispanics who are U.S. citizens and those who are illegally living in the United States.

Because of their low wages, many Hispanics have to set priorities, said Jaime Martinez, co-chairman of the health commission for the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country’s oldest civil rights group for Latin Americans.

“They would rather put money on the table, pay the light bill, pay the rent, than buy insurance that’s very costly,” Mr. Martinez said. “That’s why we need to address the health care of the uninsured and underinsured in this country.”

But the state’s uninsured problem extends beyond Hispanics.

Bill McCormick, a 55-year-old computer systems analyst from Richardson, is an example.

“I am not Hispanic and I don’t have medical insurance,” Mr. McCormick said in response to Tuesday’s news. “That was the choice I made … drop the medical insurance or go hungry.”

Texas workers are less likely to have employment-based health insurance coverage than those in other states, according to the Texas Medical Association; Texas ranks 48th in the nation for employer coverage, with only 52 percent of Texans having employment-based health insurance.

Taxpayers and those with insurance along with their employers pay extra for the care of the uninsured. Families USA, a Washington D.C.-based patient advocacy group, estimates the total cost for Texas came to more than $9.2 billion in 2005. Of that:

•The uninsured patients and their families pay about half ($4.6 billion).

•Government health programs pay one-sixth ($1.6 billion).

•Those with private health insurance subsidize the remaining third ($3 billion).

In 2005, typical premiums for family health insurance coverage provided by private employers included an extra $922 in premiums due to the cost of care for the uninsured.

In Texas, because of the very large percentage of uninsured, that figure is $1,551.

By 2010, the national average will catch up to Texas’ current figure; by then, the annual cost per Texas family will soar to $2,786, according to the Texas Medical Association.

The National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative Dallas-based research group, said a growing number of households are uninsured because they want to be.

“Whether it be cultural or a matter of economics, for a growing number of households being uninsured is a matter of choice,” said Devon Herrick, a senior fellow of the NCPA.

The NCPA is fighting the move for a single-payer, government-run health care system, saying a free-market system is best.

Mr. Herrick cited a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association report on the uninsured, which estimated that nearly 14 million adults and children qualified for government health insurance programs but did not enroll.

Over the past 10 years, the number of those in households earning $50,000 to $75,000 without insurance grew 49 percent, while the number of uninsured from households earning above $75,000 jumped 90 percent, the NCPA said, citing information from past census reports.

“The uninsured population is a diverse group, each with a different reason for lacking insurance,” Mr. Herrick said. “Income may be a factor, but it is not the only one. Some come from cultures without a strong history of paying premiums for health insurance; others don’t see it as a good economic value.”

In contrast, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal Austin-based research group, called the state’s uninsured problem embarrassing. The organization called on legislators to continue the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage for children under age 18.

Nationally, the percentage of children under age 18 without health insurance increased to 11.7 percent in 2006, according to Tuesday’s Census data. In Texas, 20 percent of children are uninsured, the worst in the nation, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Tuesday’s census report which included health insurance, poverty and income data also said:

•Among cities with more than 250,000 people, Plano had the highest median household income at $77,038.

•Plano had the lowest poverty rate among cities of that size.

•As for smaller cities 65,000 to 249,999 people Brownsville and College Station ranked among those with the highest poverty rates.

•The nation’s official poverty rate declined for the first time this decade, from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006. But, because the overall population grew, about the same number lived in poverty in 2006 (36.5 million) as in 2005.

•In 2006, women earned 77 cents for each dollar earned by men, statistically unchanged from 2005. The median earnings for men fell 1.1 percent to $42,300 in 2006; for women, median earnings fell 1.2 percent to $32,500.

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