When it comes to health insurance, most Hall County residents — and Americans for that matter — are covered, at least according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Every year, the bureau conducts its American Community Survey to illustrate how the population changes from year to year. In 2008, the bureau added questions to the survey pertaining to health insurance coverage and those results were recently released.
According to the survey, only around 21.7 percent of Hall County residents are uninsured; for the entire state of Georgia the total is even less at around 18.8 percent. The national average for uninsured Americans is around 15 percent.
"I am surprised (by the totals). As you look at the (Department of Labor records) for number of lost jobs, I would believe that the uninsured numbers would be higher," said Cheryl M. Christian, executive director of Good News Clinics in Gainesville.
"The Healthy Hall survey conducted in 2007 stated that the uninsured rate was 19 percent, an increase from the 2003 (rate) of 11 percent. With this trend and unemployment figures, I would have guessed the rate (of uninsured) would be higher."
Good News Clinics serves "any Hall County resident whose income falls below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, is uninsured and not eligible for PeachCare, Medicare or Medicaid."
One explanation for the only slight increase from the Healthy Hall survey in 2007 to the Census survey in 2008 could be all about timing.
The Census survey asked participants if they were "currently" covered by health insurance. Since many health insurance plans are offered through an employer, that answer could have changed from "yes" to "no" for many people as unemployment rates steadily rose last year. For instance, in February 2008, the Georgia Department of Labor reported that the unemployment rate in Hall County was around 3.6 percent; by August 2008, it was around 6.2 percent. By December 2008, Hall’s unemployment rate had reached 7 percent, almost double February’s rate.
Even though the number of uninsured residents in Hall County has only increased slightly over the past two years, Christian says Good News has had noticeable increases in patients.
"In 2009, we have seen an increase of 15 percent in new patients and an increase of over 13 percent in total medical patient visits for the year," she said.
Of those insured Hall County residents, individuals who are 65 and older are most likely to have insurance. According to the Census survey, around 97 percent of residents in that age group have health insurance. Medicare, a public health insurance plan, is available for residents who are at least 65 years old.
For children younger than 18, nearly 86 percent of them are covered by some health insurance plan in Hall County, the lowest percentage of coverage is for Hall County residents between the ages of 18 to 64. Only around 71.8 percent of people in that age bracket have insurance coverage.