Commentary & Opinion
2:57 pm
Mon April 16, 2012

Blair Horner - Help may be on the way for NY’s uninsured

There was some big news for New York’s uninsured last week.  First, a report was released that examined the characteristics of those upstate New Yorkers who lack health insurance coverage.  Using data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the health insurer Excellus released a profile of those who lacked health insurance in upstate New York.  Here are some of them:

  • New Yorkers living in households with annual incomes of less than $25,000 had the highest uninsured rate (24.5 percent).
  • Like the rest of the nation, young adults in upstate New York (ages 19 to 25) had the highest uninsured rate of any age group.  Some relief for these individuals is now available:  The federal health care reform law allows young adults to be covered under their parents’ private health insurance until their 26th birthday.
  •  Despite what many believe, most uninsured adults had jobs. In addition, of upstate New York’s unemployed, almost one of every three was uninsured.  Some of these individuals could be helped by federal health care reform.  That law expands the availability of Medicaid coverage – which is government health insurance for the poor.
  •  With an uninsured rate of nearly 30 percent, those who had not completed high school were at greatest risk for lacking health insurance coverage.
  •  Racial and ethnic minorities constituted a disproportionate share of the uninsured, accounting for about 13 percent of the population but representing 20 percent uninsured residents.
  •  Single men had the highest uninsured rate of all gender/marital status groups.

 In short, single men, minorities, young people and those with the lowest educational achievement are the most at risk.  Lacking health insurance can not only be calamitous to one’s finances, but can be deadly to a person’s health.  Not surprisingly, not having health insurance can exacerbate health problems.  A study released in the year 2000 by the Institute of Medicine estimated that 18,000 people died prematurely because they lacked insurance; in 2006, the Urban Institute updated that figure to 22,000.  In 2010 another update showed that the number had swelled to roughly 27,000 deaths annually, with roughly 1,500 being New Yorkers.

Of course, these findings should come as no surprise.  Reports have identified these problems for years and those findings provided the justification for passage of federal health care reform.

This brings me to the second bit of news.  Last week, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order creating a health benefits exchange for the state of New York.  The exchange is the mechanism through which New Yorkers without health insurance, as well as small businesses that currently doesn’t have the sources to purchase health insurance, will be able to obtain affordable coverage.  The theory is simple:  by pooling their purchasing power through the exchange, individuals and small businesses can get a better deal — and one that they can afford.

The governor originally proposed creating the exchange as part of the budget, but the Senate leadership refused to agree.  This being an election year, the Senate leadership apparently did not want to appear to be supportive of one of President Obama’s top domestic accomplishments.

But for the nearly 3 million uninsured New Yorkers, waiting is a terrible option.  So the governor acted.  In doing so, New York is likely to receive tens of millions of dollars in federal aid to set up the exchange.  And New York is more likely to meet with deadline of offering affordable health insurance to those in need by the end of next year.

The governor deserves tremendous credit for making this happen. 

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division.  His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

 The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its management.

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