State sees drop in number of uninsured residents

LANSING — Although Michigan isn’t one of the top five states to see a decrease in the number of residents without health insurance, the number without insurance continued to decline last year, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 2013, 11 percent of residents were uninsured, most of whom were living in rural areas. That number dropped to 8.5 percent of residents lacking coverage in 2014.

Of the top five counties with the most significant decline, Van Buren County showed the biggest difference. The Census Bureau indicated 15.6 percent of its residents were uninsured in 2013, compared to 8.9 percent in 2014.

“Most county residents work for small employers or in agriculture and previously weren’t able to receive Medicaid, but now can through the Healthy Michigan Plan,” said David Waymire, a spokesperson for the Michigan Association of Health Plans. The Healthy Michigan Plan was signed into law and allows the state to make health care benefits available for low-income residents.

Van Buren, like Bay, Allegan, Kalamazoo and Lenawee counties, all have rural communities with few metropolitan areas, and all showed the largest drop in the rates of uninsured residents last year.

With an increase in coverage among the working age population, from 19 to 64 years old, employers with 50 or more full time employees must provide some sort of health insurance.

The Michigan Health Policy Forum attributes most of the decline to the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the traditional pattern of income-related health insurance has changed. It has taken major steps in terms of those who were historically too poor to afford health insurance and now have the ability to, thanks to subsidies provided by the government,” said Dennis Paradis, executive director of the forum. The forum is a series of seminars on current health policy topics and how they relate to Michigan.

The Affordable Care Act created a base for Medicaid coverage, but still requires state participation. That’s where the Healthy Michigan Plan comes in.

“The state is moving forward with the Healthy Michigan Plan,” Waymire said. “It gives working families, especially those living in relatively poor counties, a chance to receive medical care from employers.”

The Census Bureau said that with implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, states have seen the largest single-year drop in uninsured rates to date. Most states that expanded Medicaid saw the largest declines in the number of uninsured people, including Michigan.

Dominick Pallone, deputy director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, said the implementation of all three programs has reduced uninsured rates, according to Census Bureau and state numbers.

“Six-hundred-thousand people now have insurance that didn’t previously have it — they have access to health policies and can now become a contributing member of society,” said Pallone. “And the uninsured rate is only expected to continue to go down.”

Pallone said the Healthy Michigan Plan covers those with an annual income of $15,654 for a one-person family or $32,252 for a family of four.

“Those that fall under the poverty level will see a sizeable benefit from the Healthy Michigan Plan,” Pallone said.

Paradis also said there is a direct correlation between being insured and good health.

“We as a state will be healthier if more are insured — it’s the first step toward improving the health status of the entire state,” Paradis said. “By receiving preventive vaccines and seeing a doctor regularly, people won’t miss as much work or school and fewer epidemics will occur.”

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