Report: 1 million in state lack health insurance

OLYMPIA — One million residents in the state don’t have health insurance and unpaid costs have risen to $1 billion a year, insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler said Tuesday.

The number of uninsured has grown by at least 180,000 since 2008, and 31 of the state’s 39 counties saw an increase in the number of uninsured, according to a report issued by Kreidler’s office.

Kreidler said that 14.5 percent of the state’s more than 6.7 million people are without health insurance. That percentage jumps to 20 percent or higher in five counties: Adams, Franklin, Grant, Okanogan and Yakima.

Six counties saw a decline in the number of uninsured people: Clallam, Cowlitz, Jefferson, Wahkiakum, Whatcom and Whitman. The large number of retirees and college students in those counties account for that because retirees are eligible for Medicare and college students can now stay on their parents’ policies due to changes under federal health care reform that have already taken effect, his office said.

The report found that about half of those without health insurance are employed and that the most likely to be uninsured are those between the ages of 18 and 34. Nearly 30 percent of people in that age group are without health insurance, and they make up 47 percent of all of the state’s uninsured, Kreidler said.

Charity care by hospitals and health care providers rose 36 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to the report, and Kreidler said those costs ultimately get passed on to those who are paying health care premiums.

Kreidler also notes that the state numbers don’t include people who are insured but still struggle with high medical expenses.

“There are so many other people out there who, technically, have health insurance, but it’s inadequate,” he said. “They’re only one step away from bankruptcy.”

Kreidler said that if the major provisions of the federal health care reform are able to take effect in 2014, more than 800,000 uninsured people in the state will be eligible for expanded Medicaid eligibility or subsidies, and the rate of uninsured would drop to 5 percent.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments challenging the constitutionality of the historic health care overhaul — also known as the Affordable Care Act — next year.

Kreidler said he’s worried about what could happen if the court overturns the reform.

“Given the political atmosphere we face in the nation’s capital, I don’t know how they work on a compromise that is going to effectively deal with the crisis we’re facing in health care right now. I’m very apprehensive,” he said.

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