August 29, 2008

Texas tops nation in number without insurance

By Rachel Platis

Despite an increase in insured Americans across the country, Texas leads the nation in the number of people without health insurance, according to a report released this week.

The number of uninsured nationwide decreased from 15.8 percent in 2006 to 15.3 percent in 2007, according to the report released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report showed 24.4 percent of Texas residents went uninsured from 2005 to 2007.

"It's worse than last year, but the state's position hasn't changed," said John Greeley, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance.

State legislatures have taken steps to improve insurance coverage for Texas, including a bill introduced in 2007 that subsidizes the health insurance industry in Texas.

"We are addressing this in any way we can," Greeley said.

Texas falls behind other states because Medicaid and children's health insurance programs are significantly less available here than in other states, said UT public affairs professor David Warner. Small businesses in Texas are also less likely than businesses in other states to offer health insurance to employees, he said.

Warner said undocumented residents also may have accounted for a larger uninsured population.

He said coverage can be improved by expanding Medicaid coverage, which is funded by the state and federal governments but managed by the state.

The Children's Health Insurance Program, which insures for $50 or less all children who qualify, was expanded during the state's 2007 legislative session, but should be more aggressively advertised by the state, Warner said.

However, he said, Texans' fear of higher taxes and giving some people "entitlements" prohibits Texas legislators from expanding state-funded insurance programs, he said.

Teenagers lose Medicaid and CHIP coverage at 18, so the University provides low-cost insurance through UnitedHealthcare that can also cover a student's spouse or children.

"Pay for care now, if you can," Warner said. "If something happens to you, you may never be able to buy insurance after that, at least on an individual basis."

Chemistry sophomore Samantha Huerta is covered by her parents' insurance until she turns 21.

"I think it's so important for students to have health insurance, especially since we are in daily contact with so many people," Huerta said, referring to a higher possibility of becoming ill.

Major medical events, especially during college, increase the importance of insurance, Greeley said.

"At UT, students may have the means to become insured, but may not see its value," he said.

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