St. Petersburg Times, August 29, 2007: 1 in 5 Floridians uninsured

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Floridians closed the income gap with the rest of the country lastyear, but a lack of medical insurance remained a huge and growingproblem, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

In Florida, morethan 20 percent of the population had no health insurance, more thanany other state except Texas and New Mexico, according to the CensusBureau.

“We’ve seen a 39 percent increase in uninsured patientsbetween the 2004 and 2006 fiscal years,” said Anthony Escobio, directorof patient financial services at Tampa General Hospital. “It justcontinues to put a strain on our finances.”

The St. Petersburg Free Clinic said it has seen a steady increase in patients who have no other options for health care.

“Theuninsured who are inflating those numbers are the working poor,” saidRonda Russick, the clinic’s director of health services.

Advocacygroups said the numbers show the importance of expanding the StateChildren’s Health Insurance Program, now the subject of a politicalbattle between Congress and President Bush.

In all, 47-millionAmericans had no health insurance last year, including 8.7-millionchildren. That’s 15.8 percent of the population.

“The numbersshow we have continuing erosion in employer-based coverage,” saidRobert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget andPolicy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

Bright spots

Thegood news in the census figures released Tuesday: Real incomes – afteradjusting for inflation – improved and poverty rates fell last year.

In Florida the median household income rose 3.7 percent, more than twice the national increase of 1.6 percent.

ButFlorida still lags the nation with a median household income of $45,495compared to $48,451 nationally. Half of all households make more thanthe median and half make less.

Figures released by the Census Bureau, however, showed wide disparities in wealth and poverty across the state.

Someof the wealthiest areas were in suburban counties clustered aroundJacksonville: Clay, Nassau and St. Johns. Right next door was one ofthe poorest counties, Putnam, where a quarter of the residents livebelow the federal poverty line.

All of the improvement in thenational poverty rate last year occurred among people 65 and older,thanks to Social Security checks that won’t make anyone rich, butusually keep people out of poverty.

Generation gap

Generationaldifferences are striking in Hernando County, where fewer than 5 percentof residents older than 65 lived in poverty, but 22 percent of childrendid.

Hernando has experienced rapid growth in recent years,fueled by home prices and taxes that are lower than in the urbanizedparts of the Tampa Bay area.

Retirees who can afford to move to Hernando and other parts of Florida aren’t living in poverty.

Onthe other hand, the service and retail economy that supports themcreates a low-wage job force, said Jean Rags, director of health andsocial services for the county. And waiters and lawn crews often havechildren to support.

“Between 2001 an 2005, our Medicaidpopulation grew more than twice as fast as the total population,” Ragssaid. “They come here thinking this is a cheap way of life. They arethe working poor.”

Pasco County, another hot spot for recentretirees, had only 5.7 percent of its older residents living inpoverty, while Pinellas and Hillsborough, which are more builtout,mirrored the statewide and U.S. average of 10 percent.

Minority status

Miami-DadeCounty, on the other hand, had a higher percentage of older people thanyounger people – 22.7 vs. 19.6 – living in poverty, which is rare.

TheMiami area not only has a sizable African-American community, wherepoverty is more common, but Hispanic and Haitian immigration alsoundermined the basic lifeline of Social Security.

“These peoplecame in and did not speak the language. They tended toward low-incomejobs. They had to get any kind of labor they can get,” said MaxRothman, director of the Alliance for Aging.

“As they grew older, they may or may not have qualified for much Social Security.”

Helen Huntley can be reached at or 727 893-8230. Steve Nohlgren can be reached at or (727) 893-8442.

Living in poverty

Someof the wealthiest areas of the state are in suburban counties clusteredaround Jacksonville: Clay, Nassau and St. Johns. Right next to them isone of the state’s poorest counties, Putnam, where a quarter of theresidents live below the federal poverty line.

Region Percentunder 18 Percent over 65 Hernando County 22.2 4.7 Hillsborough County18.7 9.7 Pasco County 14.4 5.7 Pinellas County 17.1 10 Clay County8.3(lowest in state) n/a Martin County n/a 3.9(lowest in state) PutnamCounty 29.2(highest in state) 24.1(highest in state) Miami-Dade County19.6 22.7 Florida 17.5 10.1 Nation 18.3 9.9

Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2006 American Community Survey (margin of error various by county)


Income and health care

-InFlorida the median household income rose 3.7 percent, more than twicethe national increase of 1.6 percent. But Florida still lags the nationwith a median household income of $45,495, compared to $48,451nationally.

-In Florida, more than 20 percent of the population has no health insurance. Nationwide, 15.8 percent lacked health insurance.

On the Web

Tosee the results of the Census Bureau’s American Community Surveyreleased Tuesday go to

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