By Rose Hoban
Five years after the economic downturn, North Carolina’s recovery continues to be slow: The state ranks in the top six states for unemployment, and more than a quarter of the state’s residents live below the poverty line.
And new data from the federal government help reveal North Carolina’s continued economic struggle, showing that the U.S. as a whole has a significantly lower rate of uninsured people than in North Carolina.
A report from the National Health Interview Survey – an ongoing study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics – shows that 17.1 percent of people over the age of 65 lacked health insurance at the time they were interviewed, with the highest rates being among people in their 20s.
(Most people over 65 are eligible for Medicare, and lack of health insurance is not a significant problem in that population.)
By comparison, the most recent state-specific data for North Carolina comes from the U.S. Census, and it shows that last year 20.2 percent of the state’s adult residents under the age of 65 lacked health insurance coverage at some time during the previous year.
“Census is a bigger survey and they collect enough to get state-level estimates,” said Pam Silberman, head of the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. “The National Health Interview Survey doesn’t get state level-information.”
Silberman said that the best way to compare North Carolina to national data is to use Census figures, which show 20.2 percent of adults under 65 in North Carolina lacked health insurance in 2012, while the rate in the U.S. as a whole was 17.7 percent.
“The two surveys are pretty comparable for the national rates,” Silberman said, pointing out that North Carolina has consistently been over the national average for rates of uninsurance for some time.
She said the bright spot in any of these surveys is how rates of uninsurance have fallen for children since the introduction of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, called Health Choice in North Carolina, in 1997.
“If you look at who has public insurance in North Carolina, our rate is pretty high, at 24.8 percent in the Census data,” Silberman said, “but most of that is kids.”
She explained that 31 percent of North Carolina children live in poverty, but Health Choice covers 63 percent of the children who live under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $39,060 for a family of three.
“Because there are so many children living in poverty, it means more are eligible for public programs, which drives up the numbers of uninsured for public programs,” Silberman said.