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  1. Health

Census: Number of Tampa Bay residents without medical insurance drops

Published Sep. 19, 2015

More than 60,000 people in the Tampa Bay area gained health insurance coverage in the first year of the Affordable Care Act marketplace, according to data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Pinellas County alone, the number of uninsured residents fell from 159,990 in 2013 to 128,207 in 2014 — a 19.9 percent decrease. The figure dipped from 221,926 to 202,428 in Hillsborough County.

Pasco and Hernando counties saw their uninsured rates decline, too.

Nick Duran, of the nonprofit Enroll America, said the numbers were proof Floridians want "quality, affordable health coverage."

"The Affordable Care Act is making quality health coverage more accessible for every community, especially for low-income families and communities of color," Duran said in a statement. "And thanks to the financial assistance that lowers monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs, coverage is affordable for many more Floridians."

The local figures mirror a national trend.

Across the country, the uninsured rate fell from 13.3 percent, or about 42 million people, to 10.4 percent, or about 33 million people, according to a Census report. The rates dropped in every state and the District of Columbia.

Although groups like Enroll America celebrated the news, Edmund Haislmaier, a senior research fellow at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, cautioned against reading too much into the national numbers.

"What they are missing is the fact that almost all of that increase (in coverage) was because of Medicaid expansion, and was principally in those states (that expanded Medicaid)," he said.

In Florida — which did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare — the uninsured rate slid from 20 percent to 16.6 percent, according to the Census. An estimated 600,000 Floridians gained health insurance in 2014.

Still, Florida continued to have one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country. Only two states had a larger share of residents without health coverage: Alaska (17.2 percent) and Texas (19.1 percent).

About 424,000 people in the Tampa Bay area did not have coverage in 2014, according to the Census data. A little under half lived in Hillsborough, where the uninsured rate was 15.5 percent.

Duran, the state director for Enroll America, said his organization and others still had work to do heading into the ACA open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1.

"Enroll America will continue working with partners like USF's Covering Florida Consortium to identify and educate the uninsured on what their options are for health coverage," he said.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

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