Finding uninsured Americans by the numbers
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
the associated press | February 06,2014
Katina Rapier of Chicago is shown here at Harold Washington College in Chicago, during a signup event for the new federal health care law that was sponsored by Enroll America.
WASHINGTON — Wanted: Millions of uninsured Americans willing to give President Barack Obama’s health care law a chance.
With time running out, it may not be so hard for the administration and its allies to find them. A study for The Associated Press finds that the uninsured aren’t scattered evenly across the country: half of them live in just 116 of the nation’s 3,143 counties.
That means outreach targeted to select areas can pay off big, reaching millions of prospective customers needed to stabilize the law’s new insurance markets.
The pattern also holds true for the younger uninsured, the health care overhaul’s most coveted demographic. The study found that half of uninsured people ages 19-39 live in 108 counties. Their premiums are needed to offset the cost of care for older adults.
With most of the bugs out of the HealthCare.gov website, the Obama administration is using the geography of the uninsured to write a playbook for its closing sign-up campaign.
Enrollment ends March 31 for subsidized private insurance, available to people who don’t have coverage at work. But many who could benefit are procrastinating. Some people are confused by the new law. Others don’t think they will qualify for help.
“Our efforts are aimed at making sure we can raise awareness in areas with the largest concentration of uninsured people,” said Julie Bataille, communications director for the rollout at the federal Health and Human Services Department.
The administration has done its own geographical research, drilling down even below the county level. Officials said the pattern coincides with the findings of AP’s study, which was conducted by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota.
With their own research, federal officials are focusing on 25 key metro areas. The top two are in Texas: Dallas and Houston. Next come Miami and Atlanta. In the Northeast, the northern New Jersey megalopolis and Philadelphia are on the list. Midwest markets include Detroit, Cleveland and Indianapolis. Southern cities also include Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C.
The numbers help determine where to send HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to pitch the law. They’re guiding the placement of television ads aimed at younger people, scheduled to start airing as the Winter Olympics open this week.
Washington is largely steering clear of states that are leading their own sign-up efforts, such as California, New York and Illinois.
The research for the AP by the Minnesota health data center found that just 13 counties account for 20 percent of the uninsured. The top county, Los Angeles, has more than 2 million uninsured people, or about 5 percent of the national total.
Uninsured Americans generally live in major metro areas, but data-driven research can also help in rural states with seemingly low numbers of uninsured people, said Brett Fried, a senior researcher at the center. Census files that provide coverage information at the ZIP code level can be used to tease out concentrations of uninsured. Bataille said the government also has an outreach effort tailored to rural areas.