Texas Has Nation's Highest Rate of People without Health Insurance

Sept. 3, 2009

Texas, the fastest growing state, has the highest rate of working-age people who do not have health insurance, researchers at Baylor University report in an analysis of newly released U.S. Census Bureau data.

Nearly 31 percent of those ages 18 to 64 are uninsured, compared with the national average of 20.2 percent for that age group, according to senior research analysts Debbie McMahon and Wes Hinze of Baylor's Center for Community Research and Development in Waco.

The 2006 statistics, released in the midst of national debate over the nation's health care system, are "the most recent, most complete set of data out there that include health estimates for small areas," Hinze said.

"Texas may stand to gain or lose more than other states, depending on the contents of the forthcoming health care reform bill," he said.

While some of Texas' 254 counties fared better than the national average in the working-age category, the counties with the six largest Texas cities ranked worse, McMahon said.

They included:

--Harris County, which includes Houston -- Texas' largest city -- at 37.6 percent

--Dallas County, which includes Dallas, 33.3 percent

--Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, 27.3 percent

--Travis County, which includes Austin, 29.4 percent;

--Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth, 27.8 percent

--El Paso County, which includes El Paso, 40.2 percent.

Several counties in West Texas and along the border with Mexico had rates of uninsured people ranging from 34 to 51 percent, the analysis showed.

Eight Central Texas counties had percentages ranging from 26 percent to 32 percent. They included Bell, Bosque, Coryell, Falls, Hamilton, Hill, Limestone and McLennan counties.

The Census Bureau defines people as insured if they were covered by any type of health insurance coverage for part or all of the previous year.

McMahon and Hinze chose to look at people of working age who have access to several health care options, because people over 65 are eligible for Medicare, while children are often insured through their parents or through the Children's Health Insurance Program.

"There is a broad and obviously inaccurate presumption that employers provide health insurance," said Dr. Charles Tolbert, chair and professor of sociology at Baylor University.

"By starting with the working-age population, who are most widely believed to be covered by employer insurance, the data are all that much more telling," he said. People in that age category have nothing to fall back on, unlike younger and older people, who have some government backup, he said.

"The strain on the health care system with almost one in three people without insurance is serious," McMahon said. "These data raise a lot more research questions than they answer, but it's encouraging to me that when you start asking questions you are closer to working toward solutions."

Other states ranking low in health insurance coverage were New Mexico, with the second highest rate of uninsured, followed by Florida, Louisiana and California.

States which fared best included Minnesota, which had the lowest rate of uninsured, followed by Massachusetts, Hawaii, Wisconsin and Maine.

McMahon and Hinze analyzed data from the Small Area Health Insurance Estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau. Those statistics are obtained from information collected by several methods, which makes for a comprehensive look at the nation's 3,142 counties, McMahon said.

Baylor University's Center for Community Research and Development analyzes data for such entities as Central Texas cities, counties and the Heart of Texas Council of Governments to aid them in planning for the future.

Contact:Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, (254) 710-3321

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