PETOSKEY -- The share of Northwest Michigan residents without health insurance coverage rose while the local and national economies toughened in the late 2000s, but eased off a bit more recently, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released Small Area Health Insurance Estimates showing health coverage trends for states and counties from 2008 through 2011, with the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments sharing figures for the 10-county region it serves.
The region's percentage of residents without health insurance stood at 13.4 percent in 2008, then rose to 14.6 percent in 2009 and 15.4 percent in 2010. Then, the percentage decreased to 15.0 percent in 2011.
Charlene Schlueter, chief financial officer for the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, noted that the figures show the effect of the late 2000s recession on insurance coverage.
"The good news is, it appears the highest proportion of the uninsured population was reached in 2010," she said. "The 2011 percent of uninsured dropped .4 percentage points from the 2010 level, but is still 1.6 percentage points higher than 2008."
Northwest Michigan's share of residents without coverage followed a similar pattern to the state as a whole between 2008 and 2011, but the uninsured percentage remained a bit higher at the regional level in each year.
For all of Michigan, 12.4 percent of residents were without health coverage in 2008, with the percentage rising to 14.3 by 2010 and then decreasing to 13.6 the following year.
The Census estimates are based on residents ages 64 and younger. At 65, Americans become eligible for federally administered Medicare coverage.
Alcona Citizens for Health operates Northern Michigan health clinics such as the Community Health Center near Harbor Springs. With cooperation from several other organizations in the region -- including Northern Health Plan, McLaren Northern Michigan and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan -- the Community Health Center provides care to people whose incomes stand at 200 percent of the poverty line and who lack insurance. Fees are based on ability to pay.
These patients account for nearly half the workload at the clinic, which also serves people who do have various forms of medical coverage. Alcona Citizens for Health executive director Chris Baumgardener said the uninsured make up a noticeably higher share of the patient load at the Emmet County clinic than at Alcona Citizens' for Health's other sites in northeast Michigan.
"We are overwhelmed by the number of people in your area who do not have health insurance," she said. "These are usually childless adults who are working at seasonal, usually low-paying jobs, whose employers do not offer health insurance."
Baumgardner said demand from uninsured individuals for her organization's services has tended to follow larger economic trends -- rising as the late 2000s recession set in. While demand has leveled off recently, she added that it remains strong.
Estimates for local areas’ share of residents without health insurance are as follows:
2008 2009 2010 2011
Charlevoix County 13.1 13.8 13.8 14.8
Emmet County 13.7 15.7 15.8 14.7
Figures are based on U.S. Census Small Area Health Insurance Estimates and reflect residents ages 64 and younger
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