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The uninsured's impact on health care
While the country awaits the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the national health care bill, the ranks of uninsured Americans continue to rise.
And with it are the increases in costs which are primarily borne by hospitals and, eventually, passed on to individuals with insurance or the means to pay for health care.
“For (people) who are uninsured, no primary care office will take them unless they pay the day of the visit,” said Patrick Walz, president and CEO of Yuma Regional Medical Center. “So (uninsured) people stay away from them. They then put off (treatment) until it's a crisis situation ... and then they come to the emergency room.”
According to a Gallup poll released earlier this year, 17.1 percent of Americans lacked health insurance in 2011, up from 14.8 percent in 2008.
Although many factors contribute to the increase, one makes the biggest impact: rising health care costs.
Walz said one of the reasons for this rise in costs is that as more and more uninsured individuals pass through hospital doors to receive treatment, those costs need to be recouped from somewhere.
“What happens in the community then is that ... ultimately, we have to pass the (costs) on to people that do have insurance. And that becomes the hidden tax.”
He added that recent cuts from the Legislature to AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) and other funds that help defray the costs associated with uninsured patients has only worsened the problem.
“It impacts the community because then businesses have to pay more for the premiums. So the state said it saved a bunch of money, but the working people still have to pay it because their premiums are going to go up.”
Between 1999 and 2008, family health insurance premiums rose approximately 119 percent, more than triple the amount workers experienced in increased wages during that time, according to a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine.
As a result, fewer Americans (44.6 percent) in 2011 received their health insurance from employers than in 2008 (49.2 percent).
In Yuma County, a similar pattern has emerged as 18 percent of residents were uninsured in 2008, with that number increasing to 19.8 percent (around 37,000 people) in 2010.
But those numbers show only the overall rates of the uninsured in the county.
When broken down by demographics, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey data, a more exact story is revealed.
Among residents ages 18-64, 29 percent lacked coverage while 13 percent of children under 18 and only .4 percent of people over 65 went without health insurance.
As for the employed, part-time workers (33.6 percent) were more likely than full-time workers (23.5 percent) to lack health insurance.
But only 13.7 percent of the 52,926 individuals in the county who did not work in 2010 went without it.
Hispanics (25 percent) had a higher uninsured rate than whites (18.5 percent) while African-Americans (10 percent) had the lowest.
A person's place of birth appeared to have some affect on whether or not an individual had insurance.
Foreign-born residents (33 percent) were twice as likely to be uninsured than native-born residents (15.4 percent), and naturalized citizens had a lower rate (26.8 percent) than non-citizens (37.2 percent).
One of the larger disparities between insured and uninsured can be found in educational attainment.
Residents who acquired a bachelor's degree or higher have an uninsured rate (6.7 percent) that is almost five times less than someone who never graduated from high school (28.7 percent) and four times less than someone with only a high school diploma (23 percent).
Regardless of the reasons why someone lacks health insurance, the effect that the uninsured have — not only on the health care industry but the overall economy — will continue to reverberate throughout the country long after the Supreme Court decision is read sometime this summer.