SALT LAKE CITY — Utah counties and ethnic groups are far from equal when it comes to health insurance coverage, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Tuesday.
They show, for example, that Utah Hispanics in 2007 were three times as likely as whites to lack health insurance.
Also, insurance coverage varied widely among Utah's counties. Davis County had the lowest uninsured rate — just 10.5 percent of its population under age 65 lacked coverage — while Rich County's rate was nearly three times higher, at 26.2 percent.
Nehring said since most people get their health insurance through employers, it's much more likely that low-income populations and minorities will be uninsured.
"The reality is that our Latino community is really on the lower end of our wage scale," said Lincoln Nehring, Medicaid policy director for the Utah Health Policy Project. The group is a nonpartisan, nonprofit resource that advocates for improving the state's health care system. "The jobs that they have are much less likely to offer employer-sponsored health care coverage," he said.
The new data are for 2007 and come from the Census Bureau's Small Area Health Insurance Estimates program. The information is currently the only estimate for health insurance coverage for every state in the nation and is used to help determine funding for government cancer-screening programs.
The bureau estimates that 15.7 percent of all Utahns under age 65 lacked health insurance. (Those over age 65 are eligible for Medicare coverage.) That was lower than the national rate of 17.1 percent uninsured.
Utah ranked a middling 28th best among the states and had an estimated 388,199 residents who lacked health insurance that year.
The bureau also estimated that 34.1 percent of Utah Hispanics lacked health insurance, compared to 19.7 percent of Utah blacks and just 12.5 percent of Utah whites.
The numbers showed that rural counties in Utah had an uninsured rate of 17.5 percent, compared to 15.2 percent in urban counties.
The counties with the highest uninsured rates were all rural: Rich, at 26.2 percent; Daggett, with 23.5 percent; Beaver, at 22.6; Wayne, with 20.6; Grand, at 20.5; and Garfield, at 20 percent.
Counties with the lowest uninsured rates were Davis, with 10.5 percent; Carbon, at 11.6; Box Elder, at 13.3; Tooele, with 13.6; Juab, 13.7; and Weber, 14.8.
In Salt Lake County, 16.9 percent of those under age 65 lacked health insurance. In Utah County, 15.1 percent did not have health insurance.
"The state has a lot of work to do to implement health reform," Nehring said. "The state doesn't do a very good job of outreaching to our minority populations about public programs like Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program)."
He said the economy has forced more people toward public health care programs and away from private health plans, as many have lost their jobs and subsequently their health coverage.
And while the national health care initiative will eventually help more families, he said, states should begin their own assistance efforts right away.
Just because federal health reform passed doesn't mean the work of executing the plan on a more local level is finished, he added.
"Over the next two or three years, there is a lot the state needs to take on to make sure that all our residents have health care coverage," Nehring said.