More than 83,000 midstaters lack health insurance, study shows

mstucka@macon.comSeptember 29, 2013 

Across a swath of Middle Georgia, about one in every five people not yet a senior citizen is living without health insurance, a Telegraph analysis of U.S. Census Bureau estimates shows.

In all, the data show that 83,625 people lacked health insurance. That number is greater than the total population of Warner Robins, and it is closer to the population of Macon. Those figures suggest that plenty of Middle Georgians will start trying to figure out what to do with insurance coverage after the program dubbed Obamacare launches Tuesday, with a requirement to buy health insurance -- or pay a fine.

Some people are about as likely to be without health insurance as they are to be insured.

In 11 Middle Georgia counties that The Telegraph focused on, about half of the working-age, poor men lacked health insurance.

The data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Health Insurance Estimates isn’t perfect. The numbers are estimates for the year 2011, not today. The estimate covers people with incomes up to four times the poverty rate. The agency combines the American Community Survey with data on income levels from the Internal Revenue Service, employment statistics, food stamp numbers and Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program. And the numbers only cover up to age 64, before most people become eligible for Medicare.

The Telegraph focused on Baldwin, Bibb, Bleckley, Crawford, Houston, Jones, Laurens, Monroe, Peach, Twiggs and Wilkinson counties.

Trends showed up across the counties. The counties strayed little from the region’s average uninsured rate of 19 percent. The best was Houston County, at 17.6 percent; the worst was Crawford County, where an estimated 23.9 percent of people don’t have health insurance.

Crawford County also had the highest rate of people without health insurance in ages birth to 18, at 12.9 percent; from 19 to 39 years, at 38 percent; and from 40 to 64 years, at 21.8 percent.

Across Middle Georgia, that critical range of 19 to 39 was least likely to have health insurance. A young adult was roughly three times as likely to go without health insurance than the youngest group and almost twice as likely to go without health insurance than the older adults.

In fact, most of Middle Georgia’s uninsured population under the age of 65 is young adults. In that group, some 31.1 percent don’t have insurance.

Enrollment of young adults is critical to Obamacare. The program -- formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- aims to use health insurance from younger adults to subsidize the costs of older adults, who are more likely to need medical care more often as they age.

The federal government says young adults should get health insurance because it will cover unexpected hospital stays, which average $30,000 for just three days.

Most people who don’t get health insurance will have to pay what the federal government calls a fee, or the “individual shared responsibility payment.” The U.S. Supreme Court decided that was actually a tax.

That cost is at least $95 per adult next year, or 1 percent of a person’s salary. The price will increase as time goes on.

James Donley, a 50-year-old real estate attorney from Macon with a background in finance, plans to look more into the situation, but he suspects he’ll continue going without health insurance next year.

He’s opposed to requiring Americans to buy a product, and he said he’s done well paying his way.

He may reconsider, though, as the costs of not having health insurance move closer to the costs of getting health insurance.

“If it makes more sense to get health insurance, then I’ll get health insurance,” he said. Right now, “It’s a pretty clear economic situation: pay the taxes, unfair as they may be.”

Donley won’t be the only person evaluating his health insurance options as time goes on.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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