More Utahns are uninsured, despite increased efforts for access

Published: Friday, Aug. 31 2012 11:37 p.m. MDT

The number of Utah's uninsured continues to grow, despite state and national efforts to improve access to health care.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utah's uninsured continues to grow, despite state and national efforts to improve access to health care.

Of the 377,700 Utahns who went without insurance in 2011, 69,600 are children, according to Utah Department of Health data. Approximately 56,500 of those kids are eligible for the taxpayer-funded Children's Health Insurance Plan but continue to go without coverage.

"It is frustrating to know that there are that many kids who are sitting out there uninsured when they are eligible for a program that would provide them with an important service," said health department spokesman Tom Hudachko.

Lawmakers removed CHIP's enrollment caps during the 2008 Legislature, and the state was making progress on the number of uninsured children until now. Children eligible for the program must live in homes where the income is below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

Hudachko said the latest numbers, however, aren't a good indicator of reality.

The method by which the 2011 data was gathered changed somewhat from previous years, including for the first time both land-line and cell phone respondent data, as well as a different way of tabulating results to more accurately represent Utah's population.

The new numbers, derived from the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, provide little more than a baseline indicator for state health officials moving forward, Hudachko said.

The survey also provides better and more reliable data on a number of other health issues, he said, and that's important when state officials are vying for funding each year.

In addition to a growing number of uninsured children, the population of young adults continues to have the lowest rate of insurance coverage than any other group. Of those ages 19 to 26, 23.6 percent were uninsured in 2011, and 24.1 percent of Utahns in the 27 to 34 age group went without health care benefits, according to the health department data.

In addition to access, cost appears to be is a concern for Utahns, as more than 26 percent of part-time employed individuals claim to be uninsured. About half that are uninsured among full-time employees throughout the state. The rate for self-employed individuals is also high, as nearly 30 percent are without insurance, the data states.

While rates reflect a struggling economy for many of Utahs workers, the numbers can also be a predictor of health status, Hudachko said.

"Having access to health insurance is one of the key determinants of how healthy you're going to be, especially when it comes to having access to preventive care," he said.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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