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Northwest Indiana sees slight increase in number of uninsured residents in 2010

Dr. H. M. Macabalitaw smiles while offering words encouragement Charlene Cox during an appointment North Shore Health Center Lake StatiThursday

Dr. H. M. Macabalitaw smiles while offering words of encouragement to Charlene Cox during an appointment at the North Shore Health Center in Lake Station Thursday Oct. 4, 2012. Cox, who does not have medical insurance, was recently diagnosed with diabetes. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Uninsured Rates

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 16.8 percent of Lake County residents did not have health insurance in 2010, and 13.8 percent of Porter County residents didn’t either. The lower the income bracket, the higher the rates of uninsured:

Below 138 percent of poverty level: 28 percent uninsured in Lake County, 33 percent in Porter County

139 to 200 percent poverty level: 25 percent uninsured in Lake County, 27 percent in Porter County

200 to 250 percent poverty level: 20 percent uninsured in Lake County, 19 percent in Porter County

250 to 400 percent poverty level: 13 percent uninsured in Lake County, 10 percent in Porter County

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Northwest Indiana saw a slight increase in the number of uninsured residents in 2010, but one local expert says the numbers give reasons for optimism, especially with the coming federal deadline requiring insurance for everyone.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 16.8 percent of people in Lake County did not have health insurance in 2010 and 13.8 percent in Porter County did not.

Sam Flint, assistant director of Indiana University Northwest’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, says the increases, 0.6 percent for Lake County and 0.7 percent for Porter County from 2008 and 2009, are within the margin of error for the report, meaning there might not actually be an increase.

He also noted that even if there were an increase in the number of uninsured, both counties lagged behind the state’s overall growth during the past few years.

“So the rest of Indiana is losing insurance at a faster rate than Lake County and Porter County,” he said.

He noted that both counties now fall under the state average.

Some provisions of the Affordable Care Act have already gone into effect, such as allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. That should mean more people are insured than several years before, but Flint said the economy likely played a role in increasing the number of uninsured. For instance, people who are self-employed probably dropped their insurance because it helped them cut costs during economic hard times, he said.

The report in recent years has helped officials determine how many people would be covered by the expansion of Medicaid in 2014 and just how many people will have to find insurance on their own when the new federal requirement kicks in that same year. Uninsured rates are expected to drop everywhere after it goes into effect, but Flint warned that Indiana could still see a significant number of people without health insurance if the state opts to not expand its Medicaid coverage.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted earlier this year to uphold most of the Affordable Care Act but did find the federal government could not punish states for not expanding Medicaid to people who make 138 percent of the poverty level.

Medicaid questions linger

According to the study, 31,327 people in Lake County and 7,408 people in Porter County who make 138 percent or less of the poverty level did not have insurance in 2010.

“Medicaid is clearly an economic driver for states, and states that don’t take it will pay those federal taxes that other states will get,” Flint said.

It could also hurt patients at local clinics such as HealthLink Community Health Center in Valparaiso and the several NorthShore Centers in Porter and Lake counties.

Beth Wrobel, CEO of HealthLink, said the clinic served 7,000 new patients in 2010. Although the clinic looks for every way to cut costs, such as using generic medicine first, it has a hard time paying for special tests for the uninsured. If the state doesn’t expand Medicaid for the poor, HealthLink will need to find a way to continue providing for them.

“I think it continues to be an issue,” she said.

She said the clinic is also seeing more people who have insurance but with high deductibles, sometimes as much as $5,000. Those people will often not go see a doctor until a symptom has gotten worse and might then need more expensive medical care than if they hadn’t waited, she said.

Donna Scott, an executive administrative assistant with NorthShore, said the clinic has seen an increase of uninsured into even 2011, with a 5.19 percent increase from 2010. So far this year, the clinics have seen 7,000 new patients, with 46 percent not having insurance or needing to be put on a sliding scale.

“We’re going to be here for the patients no matter what,” she said.

One of those patients is Lake Station resident Charlene Cox, 54, who says she has never had health insurance. Cox, who does not work, said she has never tried to get insurance and doesn’t know what, if any, she qualifies for. She instead has always relied on NorthShore for her medical concerns.

“They’re very nice over there, help you out as much as they can,” she said.

She’s concerned about the coming mandate, saying she doesn’t know how she’ll afford insurance and she wishes elected officials would help spread more information about her options.

“It’s hard for people that don’t have a job and they don’t have money,” she said.



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