Washington • Wanted: Millions of uninsured Americans willing to give President Barack Obama’s health care law a chance.
With time running out, it may not be so hard for the administration and its allies to find them. A study for The Associated Press finds that the uninsured aren’t scattered evenly across the country: half of them live in just 116 of the nation’s 3,143 counties, or 3.7 percent.
That means outreach targeted to select areas can pay off big, reaching millions of prospective customers who are needed to stabilize the law’s new insurance markets.
The pattern also holds true for the younger uninsured, the health care overhaul’s most coveted demographic. The study found that half of uninsured people ages 19-39 live in 108 counties, or 3.4 percent. Their premiums are needed to offset the cost of care for older adults.
With most of the bugs out of the HealthCare.gov website, the Obama administration is using the geography of the uninsured to write a playbook for its sign-up campaign. Enrollment ends March 31 for subsidized private insurance, available to people who don’t have coverage at work. But many who could benefit are procrastinating. Some people are confused by the new law. Others don’t think they will qualify for help.
With their own research, federal officials are focusing on 25 key metro areas. The top two are in Texas: Dallas and Houston. Next come Miami and Atlanta. In the Northeast, the northern New Jersey megalopolis and Philadelphia are on the list. Midwest markets include Detroit, Cleveland and Indianapolis. Southern cities also include Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C.
The research for the AP by State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota found that just 13 counties account for 20 percent of the uninsured. The top county, Los Angeles, has more than 2 million uninsured people, or about 5 percent of the national total.
High on the list of places with lots of uninsured people is Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago. It ranks third nationally in the total number of uninsured, and third in uninsured young adults, with more than 460,000, the study found.
The White House originally set a goal of signing up 7 million people in the new insurance markets, and the administration says it has reached the 3 million mark. Website problems — federal as well as state — have cast doubt on whether original goal will be met.