Utah's uninsured rate holding steady
There was little change last year in the number of Utahns who went without health insurance.
The state's ranks of uninsured included 301,700 people in 2010, about 10.6 percent of the population, according to an annual census by the Utah Department of Health. That's a slight improvement over the 314,300 Utahns who went without coverage in 2009, but statistically insignificant, say health officials.
"Despite the fact that nearly 13,000 fewer Utahns were uninsured last year, it's tough to take any comfort in these data," said health director David Patton in a prepared statement on Wednesday.
The census is based on a landline phone survey that asks if the person on the phone is currently uninsured. It likely misses young adults who exclusively use cell phones and who comprise the lion's share of uninsured, said health data director Barry Nangle.
The relatively stable number underscores the need for continued efforts to improve access to affordable care, said Patton, praising the Utah Health Insurance Exchange as one remedy.
The exchange is an online marketplace where people can comparison shop for coverage. But for now, it's only open to small-business owners and their employees.
Under national health reform, all citizens will have access to federal exchanges by 2014. And most moderate-income families will qualify for subsidies to help pay for their health plans.
At Wednesday's monthly meeting of the legislative health reform task, the governor's health adviser, Norm Thurston, said Utah isn't interested in using its exchange to connect Utahns to these tax credits, which family advocates say is disappointing.
"Basically they're saying if the feds want to help people buy insurance, fine, but we don't want to work in conjunction with them to make that happen," said Lincoln Nehring, senior health policy director at Voices for Utah Children.
Wednesday's report also emphasizes the importance of such low-income public health benefits as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Without these programs, Utah's uninsured rate would exceed 20 percent.
• 28.6 percent of adults ages 19 to 26 were uninsured, the highest rate of any age group.
• Part-time workers and the self-employed also have high rates (19 percent and 24 percent, respectively).
• Kids up to 19 years of age enjoy the lowest rate, at 7 percent.