Number of uninsured Utahns dropped in 2016

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of uninsured Utahns decreased from 2015 to 2016, continuing a steady reduction in that number, according to new health coverage data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau concluded in a report entitled Health Insurance Coverage in the United States, published Tuesday, that Utah’s uninsured made up 8.8 percent of the state’s population in 2016, compared to 10.5 percent a year earlier.

Previously collected data from the bureau found the state had a 14 percent uninsured rate in 2013, meaning about 402,000 were without medical coverage. Those numbers have declined each year since, with 265,000 Utahns estimated as uninsured in 2016.

Uninsured Utahns | Heather Tuttle

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who co-chairs the Utah Legislature’s Health Reform Task Force, said the drop in the number of Utahns who are uninsured was “a little more than I anticipated.”

“I think … part of that is the employers are offering benefits to attract and maintain employees” in a competitive hiring environment in the state, Dunnigan said. “I think at least one of the factors (is) a robust economy.”

Jason Stevenson, spokesman for the Utah Health Policy Project, a think tank and nonprofit enrollment network that helps Utahns sign up for insurance, echoed Dunnigan, saying the number of uninsured was “surprising to me.”

“It’s actually much lower than I thought it was going to be,” he said.

Stevenson said his optimism had been dampened by data published in June by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund think tank, indicating increasing uninsured rates among some demographics — for example, among households that make 400 percent or more of the federal poverty level and therefore don’t qualify for subsidies for insurance bought on the Affordable Care Act exchange.

“Utah has made some incredible gains in expanding coverage and reducing our uninsured rate over the past three to four years,” Stevenson said. “I think it will be challenging to keep that progress up in the face of efforts by the (Trump) administration to make it harder for people to find and keep insurance coverage. Our work is cut out for us.”

He said his concerns about the exchange include President Donald Trump’s declining to commit to paying cost-sharing reduction payments to participating insurers beginning in 2018, the federal…

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