The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

Don’t Believe All Hype Regarding Uninsured South Carolinians

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A recent Charleston Post and Courier article focusing on the number of South Carolinians without health insurance left readers with a misleading impression.

The paper reported that according to U.S. Census Bureau information, about 19.2 percent of South Carolinians have no form of health insurance, according to data collected in 2006 and released earlier this week.

To which The Post and Courier added: “some experts say the recession likely has pushed that figure closer to one in every four people today. That would put the number of Palmetto State residents without health insurance at more than 1 million.”

For an explanation, the paper turned to Walter Jones, a professor of health policy and health economics at the Medical University of South Carolina:

  • South Carolina has a significant number of people employed by small businesses that can’t afford to provide insurance;
  • The state has a large tourism industry, which tends not to offer health insurance benefits; and 
  • The state’s requirements to qualify for Medicaid are overly strict.

The Post and Courier’s one-dimensional report fails to delve beyond the cursory when it comes to the subject of those without health insurance.

Fortunately, other sources have taken a closer look at the issue.

For one thing, it’s not even clear if the estimates regarding the number of uninsured are correct, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Census Bureau estimates that the number of uninsured nationally amounts to 45.7 million people but the agency might be over-counting by millions due to faulty assumptions, The Journal reported in June.

“Even though legislation won’t cover many of them, illegal immigrants are especially difficult to enumerate: Few raise their hands to be counted. Prof. [Jonathan] Gruber estimates they make up about 13 percent of the uninsured today, or nearly six million people of that 45 million number,” the paper wrote.

“Of the rest, some people are eligible for health insurance but don’t know it and many can afford it but don’t want it,” The Journal added.

The fact is, many people go without health insurance by choice. Young adults in good health are willing to gamble that whatever health-related expenses they might incur will cost less than health insurance premiums, so they opt not to sign up for coverage.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 60 percent of the uninsured are under age 35, and 86 percent are in good-to-excellent health.

Economists Mark Pauly of the University of Pennsylvania and Kate Bundorf of Stanford University have reported that as many as three-quarters of the uninsured nationally could afford coverage but choose not to purchase it. 

And in South Carolina there are many individuals who are eligible for Medicaid but choose not to sign up for the program.

Among those who want insurance but don’t have it, it’s likely that a majority are only uninsured for short periods.

In addition, a lack of health insurance isn’t the same thing as a lack of healthcare. Hospitals are required to care for all individuals who seek treatment. No, that’s not ideal for either patient or care giver, but there’s no reason anyone in the state should go without proper medical attention.

What it comes down to is this: while there are certainly individuals and families in South Carolina who would like health insurance but cannot afford it, there are many who simply elect not to pay for coverage or who fail to sign up for coverage for which they’re eligible.

To paint a picture of South Carolina as a state where health insurance is a virtual luxury is disingenuous and does readers a great disservice.


Written by Cotton Boll Conspiracy

August 6, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Healthcare, Insurance

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