Follow us:

HealthCare Checkup

The Seattle Times health-care team tracks the local impact of the Affordable Care Act.

January 30, 2014 at 1:08 PM

State report: 1 in 7 uninsured, but rapid improvement predicted

In Washington, nearly 1 million residents are uninsured, few part-time and low-income workers are offered insurance from their employers, and hospitals and clinics provide more than $1 billion worth of unpaid-for medical care.

But you already knew our health-care system was broken, right? What you probably didn’t know was how quickly it’s been going downhill in recent years.

A report released Thursday from the state’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner examines who in Washington state is uninsured or “under-insured,” meaning they have insufficient coverage. Consider these troubling trends:

  • Over the past decade, there’s been a nearly 11 percent decline in the number of employers offering insurance to their workers. Only 26 percent of part-time workers get employer-provided coverage.
  • Also during this time, insurance premiums for families buying their own coverage have increased more than 70 percent. Premiums for employees paying their share of employer-provided coverage have increased 100 percent.
  • The amount of uncompensated care — medical care that hospitals and others provide but that isn’t paid for — nearly tripled, growing from roughly $360 million in 2003, up to more than $1 billion in 2012.

“The growth in the uninsured leading up to full implementation of the Affordable Care Act only makes the case for reform stronger,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler in a press release. “I’ve long held that our current health-care system was unsustainable and these numbers illustrate the crisis we faced.”

The study provides a baseline to measure how insurance coverage changes as the health-care overhaul unfolds. This is Kreidler’s fourth report on the uninsured since 2006.

The report drills down into local and federal data to reveal who makes up the uninsured by income, employment status, race, gender, age and where they reside in Washington. It seems the strongest predictor of whether you’ll have insurance is your income.

More than 40 percent of middle-age adults living close to or below the federal poverty line are uninsured. On the flip side, only 5 percent of those adults who annually earn $46,000 or more are uninsured.

And workers earning below the state’s median income rarely receive insurance from their employers. Fewer than half of full-time workers earning between $26,000 and $42,000 a year are offered insurance through their job. Less than 15 percent of part-time workers in that wage bracket have access to employer-provided coverage.

Young adults are the least-insured age demographic, with 26 percent lacking health insurance. Men are less likely than women to have coverage. And 30 percent of Hispanic and Latino residents in the state are uninsured, the highest rate compared to other racial and ethnic groups. American Indians and Alaska Natives are a close second with 28 percent of their population uninsured.

The report goes a step further to look at what being uninsured means in terms of your health. It finds that nearly half of uninsured adults have an “unmet medical need,” compared to 10 percent of people with private insurance.

The news is grim, but the report predicts the Affordable Care Act will bring improvement.

Through Obamacare, Washington has expanded the definition of who is eligible for free health care through Medicaid. The law created a new insurance marketplace, locally called Washington Healthplanfinder, where residents with lower incomes can purchase plans with discounted premiums and reduce out-of-pocket costs.

The state predicts that with Affordable Care Act changes and other health-care improvements the fraction of uninsured residents will decrease from roughly 15 percent down to 6 percent by 2016. Officials also say 805,400 residents will qualify for free or discounted health insurance through Healthplanfinder.

As a result of more people getting coverage, the report projects that over the next two years the amount spent on uncompensated care will decrease by 25 to 40 percent.

Since the state launched its health insurance marketplace in October, more than 320,000 people have signed up for insurance or newly enrolled in Medicaid.

“If you look at where we are versus the rest of the country, we’ve really done an amazing piece of work,” said state Sen. David Frockt, a Seattle Democrat, at a recent health conference in SeaTac. “By and large we are making progress.”

Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, Washington Healthplanfinder


No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►