By Khara Persad / Cronkite News
WASHINGTON -- Almost one Arizonan in five was without health insurance in 2010, with the number rising to one in four in some of the state's hardest-hit counties, according to a Census Bureau report.
The report said that Arizona's overall uninsured rate for people under age 65 stood at 19.3 percent in 2010, slightly higher than the national average of 17.7 percent for the same year.
Texas was the worst state in the nation, with 26.3 percent of its population uninsured in 2010, while Massachusetts posted the best rate at 5.2 percent.
Tara Plese, a spokeswoman for Arizona Association of Community Health Centers, said the numbers are significant for Arizona, as they translate into a "tremendous number" of patients seeking uncompensated medical attention.
"We are really seeing it in our health centers," Plese said.
The bureau's Small Area Health Insurance Estimates report, released Wednesday, said La Paz, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties were the worst-off in Arizona in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available.
Justin Carmack, director of the Tri-Valley Medical Clinic in the La Paz County town of Salome, said patients without health coverage are a big problem.
"We see a lot of uninsured patients," said Carmack. "Most of them are the migrant farmworkers population."
Carmack said the clinic offers a 30 percent discount on cash-based services like vaccines and check-ups, as well as an assistance program that lets uninsured patients pay in installments.
But, he said, "We take the hit on the bottom line."
The Census report, which provides estimates for every county in the nation, said 25.5 percent of La Paz County residents were uninsured in 2010, a number that has been steady since 2008.
The report includes almost any type of insurance – whether Medicaid, private or employer-based – when determining who is covered and who is not. The only type of healthcare that is excluded in the report is Indian Health Service coverage.
Wes Basel, the Census Bureau team lead for the SAHIE project, said the exclusion of IHS coverage could help explain the higher rates of uninsured people in those parts of the country with large numbers of American Indians.
Overall, the percentage of Arizonans with health insurance had improved – but only slightly – from 2008 to 2010, according to the report.
"Some of those numbers may have increased because 2008 was the heart of the recession," said Monica Coury, spokeswoman for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid system.
As the economy and job market improved, it might have contributed to a slight rise in the number of people who had health insurance. But in general, Coury said, "Arizona's uninsured rates have been fairly steady."
But even having a job is no guarantee of coverage. Plese said in many cases, employers cannot afford to provide insurance to workers.
"Small businesses are not able to afford health insurance because of the cost of covering their employees," Plese said.
While La Paz, Santa Cruz and Yuma had the highest percentage of uninsured people in 2010, the report said Greenlee, Cochise and Pima counties had the lowest rates of uninsured that year. Greenlee County was the lowest in Arizona, with 15.1 percent uninsured in 2010.