Map showing rates of uninsured people per county.
Map showing rates of uninsured people per county, Data courtesy of NC Institute of Medicine
Map showing rates of uninsured people per county.
Map showing rates of uninsured people per county, Data courtesy of NC Institute of Medicine

By Rose Hoban

Researchers from the North Carolina Institute of Medicine reported yesterday the number of North Carolinians under 65 lacking health insurance stayed at about one-in-five in 2010, the year President Obama signed his hallmark health reform legislation into law.

The numbers reflect rates of uninsurance for all North Carolina residents under the age of 65, and have remained at about the same rate since the start of the economic downturn in 2008.

“What we’re seeing here are the continuing results of a poor economy,” said Berkeley Yorkery, from the Institute of Medicine. The overall rates of uninsurance for people under 65 was 19.7 in 2009, and 19.6 percent in 2010.

Yorkery said the 2010 numbers would not reflect any changes that might have resulted from the  Affordable Care Act.

“It’s too early to see any of the changes that have already gone into effect, such as young people staying on their parents’ insurance, in these numbers,” she said.

Adults fare worse

Even though the overall rate of uninsurance was 19.6 percent, more adults from the ages of 19-64 were uninsured, a rate of 23.6 percent.

“We know that having health insurance means you’re more likely to get routine and preventative care that help to prevent some of those chronic diseases,” Yorkery said. “If you’re seeing a health care provider regularly they’ll be talking to you and helping you implement changes that help overall health.”

Yorkery said the good news is that the overall uninsurance rate stayed even because the number of children lacking health insurance has steadily decreased. In 2010, the number of uninsured children in the state was down to 10.3 percent.

“Kids have a safety net because of NC Health Choice,” Yorkery said, referring to the state’s version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan. “We know that over the past few years, there’s been effort to make sure that people who may have become eligible for Health Choice get signed up, and to keep eligible people continuously enrolled. That may be working.”

Yorkery said with the federal health reform law being considered by the Supreme Court, it’s hard to know how, or when, rates of uninsurance will change.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of uninsured adults over the course of the economic downturn,’ Yorkery said. “We have 1.3 million uninsured adults in NC now, up more than 300,000 from 5 years ago.  That’s one of the groups that would be most impacted by health care reform.”

She estimated that if the health reform law emerges from the Supreme Court unchanged, an additional 1.1 million North Carolina adults would have health insurance by 2019.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...