Kent County sees drop in uninsured rate


Kevin Callison, an assistant at Tulane University, said Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act played roles in the decreasing number of uninsured county residents. Courtesy GVSU

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Researchers have found the rate of people without health insurance in Kent County has dropped to 3 percent, and Grand Rapids is outperforming the nation and state in health care job growth.

Kevin Callison, assistant professor of global health management and policy at Tulane University, and Leslie Muller, assistant professor of economics at Grand Valley State University, presented information from the 2018 Health Check, which analyzes health-related trends in Michigan and Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties.

Grand Valley's Johnson Center for Philanthropy partnered with researchers for a portion of the report, using results from the 2017 VoiceKent survey, formerly VoiceGR. The sample size included 2,383 Kent County residents, including those over age 65, surveyed during the summer and fall 2017.

Data was provided by Spectrum Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Blue Care Network, Priority Health, GVSU Johnson Center for Philanthropy and The Employers Association of West Michigan.

Jean Nagelkerk, vice provost for health at Grand Valley, said the data within the report will guide area health care leaders when making decisions.

“We hope that continuing to provide this report annually facilitates better understanding of how health behaviors, growth trends and health care access can impact our decisions and strategies for addressing health care issues in our region," Nagelkerk said.

While the uninsured rate is low, barriers remain.

Callison said the drop in the number of people in Michigan without health insurance fell more than 18 percent from 2011 to 9.9 percent in 2016. The VoiceKent survey found an uninsured rate of 3 percent.

Callison attributed the decrease to Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act. 

However, he said the federal health care insurance policy changes, such as the repeal of the individual mandate, may cause the trend to flatten out or move in the opposite direction in years to come.

‚ÄúIt‚Äôll be interesting to see where these go in the next few years with all the changes that are happening to the Affordable Care Act,‚ÄĚ Callison said.¬†

While there is a low uninsured rate in Kent County, nearly 60 percent of people surveyed named cost as the main barrier to getting physical health care. 

Barriers to receiving health care included the inability to take time off work, transportation and child care issues, and fear or mistrust of the health care system. Extended office hours and telemedicine may help eliminate some of those barriers, Muller said.

Grand Rapids has experienced ‚Äúsignificant job growth‚ÄĚ in several fields between 2005 and 2016. Health care practitioners and technical occupations have seen an increase of 50 percent in Grand Rapids. Michigan saw an increase of about 18 percent, while the U.S. saw an increase of about 28 percent.¬†

There are several health-related jobs expected to grow in Michigan over the next 10 years. The most significant numbers are physical and occupation therapy, home health care, and orthotics and prosthetics. The stats ‚Äúappear to be heavily influenced by the health needs of an aging population,‚ÄĚ the report said.¬†

‚ÄúOur analysis indicates that regional educational programs are graduating students at a rate that will meet or, in many cases, exceed projected job growth in many health-related occupations,‚ÄĚ the report said.

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