Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

More in State Not Insured; Georgians without Medical Coverage Up 3%, Report Finds

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

More in State Not Insured; Georgians without Medical Coverage Up 3%, Report Finds

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- The number of working-age Georgians and children who aren't covered by a formal insurance plan increased by 3 percent in the space of a year, according to a university report released last week.

Blame the weak economy and rising insurance premiums, according to the authors at the Center for Health Services Research at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Eighteen percent of Georgians too young to retire and their children are uninsured, exactly the national percentage.

The percentage of Peach State residents covered by an employer's health insurance plan has declined from 71 percent to 66 percent in three years. That's because small companies aren't offering insurance as much as they used to, said William Custer, director of the research center.

Coverage levels have been declining since 1982, though they increased briefly in the late '90s when the economy was buzzing and employers added policies to attract workers in a period of labor shortages. Those temporary gains have almost been erased, with the portion of uninsured matching what it had been in 1996, Custer said.

The solution depends on who is talking. Some experts say market forces will make coverage more affordable. Others say a government program paid by taxpayers is the only way to cover everyone.

"There are no easy ones [solutions]. If there were, we wouldn't still be talking about it," Custer said.

Market forces could make a difference as more people set up health savings accounts, which became possible with a change in federal law Jan. 1.

The accounts give consumers a tax break for saving money that can be used for medical expenses, including deductibles. Since money left over at retirement can be spent on anything, just like an individual retirement account, it gives patients incentive to shop for medical bargains or skip non-essential treatments.

Medical inflation is fueled now by patients who aren't careful consumers, said David Sommer, associate professor of risk management and insurance at the University of Georgia.

"They don't have much reason to care about the cost because someone else is paying for it," he said. …

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