A quarter of Florida workers lack health insurance, Census says

Sep 22, 2011

The following article was published in the Tampa Tribune on September 22, 2011:


A quarter of Florida workers lack health insurace, Census says


By Kevin Wiatrowski

A quarter of Florida’s working adults – including those with full-time jobs – had no health insurance in 2010, according to figures released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Florida ranked 49th among the states in terms of the percentage of its workers with employer-funded health insurance, falling between Texas and New Mexico and just ahead of Puerto Rico. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Hawaii topped the list.

The situation was no better in the Tampa Bay area, where 23 percent of workers in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties lacked any form of insurance last year.

“I think for many folks, employers aren’t providing the type of insurance that they can afford or that’s available,” said Maggie Hall, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Health Department.

The Census figures reinforce the strong link between having a job and having health insurance. More than three-quarters of workers who had insurance got it through their employers, the Census reported.

But having a job is no guarantee.

Statewide, about 30 percent of full-time workers in Florida lacked employer-funded insurance. For part-time workers, the rate was closer to 60 percent.

With Florida’s unemployment rate above 10 percent, hundreds of thousands of laid-off Floridians have learned firsthand in recent years how much their health care depends on their jobs.

As those people struggle to make ends meet, they often turn to public health services or charities.

“Half of the people we see have lost their jobs and their insurance,” said Ronda Russick, the health center director at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

The clinic offers primary care and some specialized treatment for the working poor, who are caught between abject poverty and the private insurance market.

The clinic averages 535 visits a month. As many as 40 percent of those people are working, often cobbling together several part-time jobs. That nearly always guarantees they have no insurance and little time off to get health care, Russick said.

“When you’re scrambling to make ends meet, you don’t want to take time off for the doctor because you’re going to get docked,” Russick said.

The clinic spends most of its time caring for people dealing with the aches and pains and chronic health problems of middle age but who are too young for Medicare, Russick said.

The clinic sees very few people younger than 25, she said.

People between 19 and 25 are twice as likely as older adults to go without health care, but that’s changing, federal health officials reported Wednesday.

A million more people in that age bracket had health insurance this spring compared to the year before – an increase of about 3 percent, the federal Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday. Most likely were added onto their parents’ polices, federal health officials said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius credited the change to last year’s Affordable Care Act, which allows parents to keep their adult children on their insurance policies until age 26.

The provision kicked in at a time when young people have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

“More than a year ago, young adults were one of the most vulnerable groups in the health insurance market,” said Sebelius. “For many, it has provided the security they need to weather the economic downturn.”

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