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Census: 55,000 Arizonans lost health insurance coverage last year

The number of Arizonans without health insurance rose by about 55,000 people last year, according to new data from the Census Bureau, as a relatively strong economy was offset by hefty cost increases for coverage.

The change from 2017 to 2018 lifted the total number of uninsured in the state last year to about 750,000, or 10.6 percent of Arizona’s population.

Similar increases were seen nationally, where an estimated 500,000 lost insurance over the year, bringing the uninsured population to more than 28.5 million, or about 8.9 percent of the U.S. population, the Census said.

State health officials said they have not analyzed the cause of the “concerning” rise in uninsured people in Arizona, saying they have not noticed a decline in Medicaid enrollment from one year to the next.

But experts offered a number of possible reasons, from the state’s relatively high undocumented population to the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle Obamacare.

Large immigrant populations in a state can correlate with a lower insurance rate, said David Hyman, a Georgetown University Law Center professor.

“The states that adjoin our neighbor to the south have historically had much higher uninsurance rates than the northeast United States and the upper Midwest,” he said.

Immigrants can also work in the agricultural and service sectors. Those industries typically don’t offer health care coverage, Hyman said.

Fear of the Trump administration's headline-grabbing actions against immigration could be another reason, said an official at the nonprofit Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, said Allen Gjersvig, director of navigator and enrollment services at the alliance.

That fear could extend to migrants who are here legally themselves,

“People that have perhaps mixed family immigration status – somebody in the family is not fully documented, others are – they are afraid of being found out,” and subsequently dropping coverage, Gjersvig said.

The Pew Research Center estimates about 275,000 people were undocumented in Arizona in 2016.

Some advocates found another reason to blame the Trump administration, pointing to steps it has taken to unravel the Affordable Care Act, one of the signature achievements of President Barack Obama’s administration.

“The Trump administration has done whatever they can to try to sabotage health care for Americans,” said Morgan Tucker, Arizona director of Protect Our Care.

Tucker said other changes have not helped, such as shorter enrollment periods and diminished access to the healthcare marketplace. She said the advertising budget for the insurance marketplace has also been cut – and she’s not the only one to notice.

Gjersvig points to marketing cuts as the reason why more navigators, or health care guides, cannot be deployed. Navigators, who simplify the complex system for the community and pass along relevant information, are desperately needed, he said.

The percentage of Americans without insurance fell from 15 percent in 2012, the year Obamacare took effect, to 9 percent in 2017, the year Trump took office, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

ACA critics complained that costs for health insurance varied widely in the early years, and they challenged the constitutionality of the “individual mandate,” which required that people get coverage or pay a fine.

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Jim Hammond, publisher of the Hertel Report, said without penalties for foregoing insurance, people are just less likely to buy pricey insurance plans. He called health are plans a difficult sale under the best of circumstances.

“The return on your investment is oftentimes not felt,” Hammond said. “You don’t really get a good deal on your insurance unless you get sick.”

People most affected earn between $65,000 and $70,000 annually, because they have to pay their insurance premiums without any financial help from the government, Hammond said.

“If you make that kind of money, most people think, ‘Oh, well, then you can afford health insurance,'” Hammond said. “But then, if you go out and try to buy it and it’s $800 a month, you might think it’s not worth it.”

Hammond said the insurance industry needs to do a better job explaining to people why coverage is so crucial.

“Paying for an office visit or paying for an X-ray or lab work – people can find the money to do that,” he said. 

More costly treatments are another matter, Hammond said.

“That’s what people are really protecting themselves from when they buy insurance and I don’t think that the insurance industry has really made that entirely clear,” he said.

The disincentive to get a policy comes as Hyman says costs are increasing and increased coverage will only do so much if costs keep going up, Hyman said.

“We tend to focus on: Do people have insurance or not,” he said. “But if the cost of health care keeps rising, you’re sort of fighting a losing battle.”

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Despite a relatively strong economy, the number of people without health insurance rose between 2017 and 2018, the Census Bureau says. Nationally, 28.5 million people, or 8.9% of the population, were without coverage last year, while in Arizona it was 750,000 people, or 10.6% of the state. Photo by

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