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Census: Arizonans with health insurance rose as state economy fell

WASHINGTON – The number of people with health insurance in Arizona rose even as the state economy was falling from 2007 to 2010, when both trends reversed direction, according to a recent report by the Census Bureau.

The report said the number of people with health insurance in the state improved slightly in the period from 2006 to 2013, going from 21.8 percent uninsured to 20 percent without insurance. That moved Arizona from fifth-worst in the nation to eighth-worst, the Census numbers showed.

Experts said they were not surprised by the numbers, but cautioned that they do not reflect the surge in people with insurance since the start of the Affordable Care Act – better known as “Obamacare” – took effect last year.

“While Arizona had more than 1 million uninsured in 2013, since 2014 close to 500,000 Arizonans have received newly available health insurance through the marketplace or Medicaid,” Kim VanPelt, director of St. Luke’s Health Initiatives in Phoenix, said this week.

She had earlier said that more recent data “we’ve collected indicates that uninsured rates have drastically decreased in the past few months due to Obamacare enrollments.”

Enroll America, a nonprofit focused on enrolling Americans in healthcare, said its data shows that every county in Arizona saw its uninsured rates drop from 2013, the last year of the Census report, to 2014, the first year of Obamacare.

The Census report showed that county uninsurance rates in 2013 ranged from a high of 27.4 percent in La Paz County to a low of 11.5 percent in Greenlee County.

The numbers of uninsured dipped during the worst of the recession, before climbing again.

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Experts said this was likely due the fact that people who lost jobs during the recession turned to state-supported health care programs, like Medicaid, for coverage. When the state cut funding for Medicaid in 2010, they said, the number of uninsured started climbing again.

“Arizona was one of the states with the highest job loss. This job loss led to more people on Medicaid and AHCCCS,” said Dr. Daniel Derksen, referring to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program.

“We saw a big jump in the people eligible for state healthcare in 2007,” Derksen, a professor of public health policy at the University of Arizona, said last week. “Anyone who was under 100 percent of the federal poverty line was eligible for Medicaid, and so they enrolled.”

But budget problems forced cuts to those programs in 2010 that forced many people to lose coverage, the experts said.

“In 2010, we started seeing a lot of people lose their coverage, because they started freezing Medicaid and CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program) enrollment,” said Cheryl O’Donnell, Arizona state director of Enroll America.

“Medicaid expansion members got removed from the rolls,” she said. “The state was facing a budget shortage, and so hundreds of thousands lost their healthcare.”

But O’Donnell and others said the picture is not as bleak now as it appeared in 2013, thanks largely to Obamacare. About 120,000 Arizonans got coverage last year under the act, and that number rose to more than 200,000 in the state during the open-enrollment period that closed in mid-February.

“We are seeing the Affordable Care Act work. We’ve had over 200,000 people enrolled in Medicaid alone,” O’Donnell said last week.

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Yihyun Jeong/Cronkite News

Even though the number of uninsured in Arizona improved slightly from 2007 to 2013, the state was still eighth-worst in the nation for insurance rates in 2013.

Coverage by county

Census Bureau estimates of the percentage of people who were without health insurance in each Arizona county in 2013, the most-recent year for which the bureau had estimates:

  • Apache: 23.6 percent
  • Cochise: 17.7 percent
  • Coconino: 21.1 percent
  • Gila: 19.6 percent
  • Graham: 17.6 percent
  • Greenlee: 11.5 percent
  • La Paz: 27.4 percent
  • Maricopa: 19.8 percent
  • Mohave: 22.2 percent
  • Navajo: 21.5 percent
  • Pima: 18.8 percent
  • Pinal: 19.8 percent
  • Santa Cruz: 24.4 percent
  • Yavapai: 22 percent
  • Yuma: 24 percent