November 20, 2009 in City

Ranks of uninsured swell in state

Numbers threaten health care system, report says
By The Spokesman-Review


11 percent of Spokane residents lack health insurance, the report says.

11.6 percent are uninsured statewide.

14.4 percent could be uninsured within two years.

Washington state is on pace to reach a dangerous milestone within 14 months, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said Thursday: 1 million uninsured residents.

The 1 in 5 adults lacking insurance stand to sink the financial stability of the state’s health care providers, he said.

Kreidler released a new report that predicts Washington hospitals and other health care providers will be forced to write off $1 billion each year unless reforms are enacted to control costs and extend coverage to the uninsured and the underinsured.

Many health care providers have softened the losses by charging more for those with insurance.

A family of four in Washington now pays an extra $917 a year in higher premiums and deductibles to offset the losses related to patients who lack insurance or can’t pay their bills, according to the report.

If the costs keep climbing and more working-class families begin dropping into the ranks of uninsured, the health care crisis could worsen, Kreidler said.

“We’re reaching a point where we can’t sustain this system,” he said.

The report found 11 percent of Spokane residents lack insurance.

Statewide, 11.6 percent are uninsured; that could rise to 14.4 percent within two years.

Rural areas have the highest rates. That’s because they have fewer large companies and government operations that offer health insurance benefits to employees, Kreidler said.

About 7.5 percent of the state’s uninsured are undocumented migrants.

Working-age adults constitute most of the uninsured.

Older Americans have Medicare coverage, and the state has blended state and federal funds to ensure most children have at least basic coverage.

Kreidler, a Democrat, expressed support for the health insurance reforms wending through Congress.

The insurance commissioner is establishing a Health Care Reform Realization Committee.

The 15- to 20-person panel will begin meeting in December to figure out the best way to implement any reforms passed by Congress, such as health insurance exchanges, insurance reforms, and expansion of public health programs.

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