The number of North Carolina residents younger than 65 who don’t have health insurance jumped 22.5 percent in a five-year stretch ending in 2010, according to an independent state health agency.
About 1.6 million people, or almost one in five state residents, didn’t have health insurance, up from about 1.3 million, according to a report released Monday by the N.C. Institute of Medicine, a quasi-governmental group created by the legislature to study health issues facing the state.
Much of the jump was likely a result of the national recession, said Berkeley Yorkery, a project director with the institute.
At least part was simply because more people moved to North Carolina, but the rise was more than double the rate of population increase, which was 9.3 percent over the same period.
“The big point is that we have almost 1.6 million people who are uninsured, and having access to health insurance is an important measure of the health of a population,” Yorkery said.
The United Health Foundation ranks North Carolina 32nd nationally in overall population health, an index that includes access to health care and 22 other measures such as rates of smoking, obesity, diabetes, infant mortality, heart disease and cancer deaths.
Yorkery said the national Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – widely known as Obamacare – could provide access to health insurance to an estimated one million or more North Carolinians by 2019, if the law is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The institute’s report counted only people under the age of 65, because those who are older have access to Medicare.
The rate of uninsured kids actually dropped by 1.6 percentage points over that period, to 10.3 percent of the state’s children, Yorkery said. That decline probably came from a push to enroll more children from low- and modest-income families in the Medicaid for Infants and Children program and a federally funded, state-administered program called N.C. Health Choice for Children.
“Basically, there is a significantly larger safety net for children than for adults with low incomes,” Yorkery said.
Which means that the increase in uninsured adults was sharper than the overall increase.
Those living in rural areas were slightly more likely to have no insurance than those living in urban ones – 19 percent of the population versus 22 percent. But that gap appears to be closing, shrinking by 4.2 percentage points over the five-year period.
Greene County had the highest proportion of uninsured residents among the state’s 100 counties, at about 25 percent of its population under 65. The county with the lowest percentage of uninsured residents was Catawba at 16.5 percent.