For more than 16 percent of Americans, health insurance is out of reach

Amy Higgins

Health insurance, its affordability and accessibility continues to be a hot topic, especially with national health care reform rolling out. For years, more and more Americans have been going without health insurance coverage, some by choice and some who have no other choice. In a recent poll, Gallup found that the percentage of uninsured Americans increased or remained unchanged in most states in 2010.

Using a random sample of 352,840 adults throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Gallup found that 16.4 percent of adults were uninsured in 2010. This is just a slight change from 16.2 percent in 2009, but some states stand out in the uninsured department.

Texas topped the list of uninsured populations, with three in 10 adults without health insurance in 2010. Coming in second was Mississippi, with one in four lacking coverage. For 2010, the 10 states with the highest percentage of uninsured residents were:

  • Texas: 27.8 percent.
  • Mississippi: 24.9 percent.
  • Louisiana: 23.7 percent.
  • Oklahoma: 22.9 percent.
  • Florida: 22.8 percent.
  • New Mexico: 22.7 percent.
  • Nevada: 22.5 percent.
  • Georgia: 22.1 percent.
  • California: 21.6 percent.
  • South Carolina: 21.4 percent.

By contrast, only 4.7 percent of Massachusetts residents were uninsured. A likely reason? Massachusetts health insurance reform. In 2006, the state passed a law requiring residents to buy health insurance or face financial penalties. For 2010, the 10 states with the lowest percentage of uninsured residents were as follows:

  • Massachusetts: 4.7 percent.
  • Connecticut: 9.9 percent.
  • Minnesota: 10.5 percent.
  • Hawaii: 10.6 percent.
  • Pennsylvania: 11 percent.
  • Vermont: 11 percent.
  • Wisconsin: 11.2 percent.
  • Maryland: 11.7 percent.
  • New Jersey: 12 percent.
  • New Hampshire: 12.4 percent.

Gallup found that Hispanic Americans -- at 38.9 percent -- were the demographic group that was most likely to be uninsured in the United States in 2010.

With a decrease of 5 percentage points between 2009 and 2010 and 2.3 percentage points between 2008 and 2010, Wyoming was the only state where the uninsured rate decreased to a significant degree.

Economy issues

In a previous poll, Gallup found that since 2008, there's been a decrease in employer-based health insurance and an increase in government health insurance programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and military and veterans' coverage.

With the increase in government health care programs, many states are having financial problems and now are looking to cut back on these programs. In many states, the first on the chopping block is Medicaid, which serves many low-income Americans, a group that is among the most likely to be uninsured, Gallup says.

Is change on the horizon?

The individual health insurance mandate (the most controversial aspect of the health care reform law) is scheduled to go into effect in 2014 and will require most U.S. citizens and legal residents to have health insurance or be subject to penalties. While the debate continues about the effects health care reform will have on the economy as a whole, the idea behind it is to ensure all Americans have access to health care.

Stand Up for Health Care, a project of Families USA, says health care reform will benefit the uninsured in the following ways:

  • Medicaid will be expanded, meaning more low-income Americans will qualify for Medicaid coverage.
  • Help with premiums will be provided to individuals and families who do not qualify for Medicaid with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level.
  • Temporary high-risk pools (which already are available) will help those who have been denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Federal plan enrollments began July 1, 2010.
  • For plans or policy years that began on Sept. 23, 2010, those who are under age 26 and are uninsured can get coverage under their parents' plans.

Gallup suspects that the new health care law "may fill the voids in care" created by state budget troubles and unemployment. However, the government will not fully carry out all pieces of the legislation (like the health insurance mandate) until 2014, and such major changes could take time to ramp up.