More than 2.6 million people in Florida lacked health insurance at some point in 2017, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
That means about 12.9 percent of the state’s population last year was uninsured --- up from 12.5 percent in 2016 --- as Florida continued to be higher than the national average of 8.8 percent.
“Florida is going in the wrong direction, and Florida already had a high uninsured rate to begin with,” said Joan Alker, executive director and research professor at the Center for Children and Families at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy.
Nationally, the data showed that about 1 in 4 uninsured people were 26 to 34 years old, and about 1 in 5 uninsured people were ages 34 to 44. Data also indicated that the uninsured tended to have lower incomes and were more likely to have high-school educations or less.
Florida had the fifth-highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation, with the higher states Texas (17.3 percent), Oklahoma (14.2 percent), Alaska (13.7 percent) and Georgia (13.4 percent).
The release of the new numbers comes at a time when health care remains one of the top issues dividing Florida political leaders and as it has become a key issue during this year’s elections.
Democrats have long called for expanding Medicaid eligibility under the federal Affordable Care Act to include uninsured childless adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. But the Republican-controlled Legislature has rejected the idea.
Before his 2014 re-election campaign, Republican Gov. Rick Scott came out in favor of Medicaid expansion but later resumed his opposition to the idea. Scott is running for the U.S. Senate this year, trying to unseat longtime Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.
Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said the narrative that Medicaid expansion is a cure-all “just isn’t’ true” and that “19 states that expanded Medicaid have seen an increase in the number of uninsured.”
“Florida’s Medicaid program is operating at an all-time high in efficiency and service to Florida families,” Lewis said. “The fact is, Gov. Scott has offered significant proposals on how Washington can increase quality and access to health care.”
After President Donald Trump was elected, Scott called for Congress to repeal the federal health-care overhaul, which was pushed into law by former President Barack Obama and is commonly known as Obamacare. The effort ultimately failed, although Florida is now part of an ongoing lawsuit that could dismantle key portions of the law.
A closer look of the new data shows that in Florida, about 45 percent of people with insurance in 2017 obtained it through their employers. Medicare, the government-run program for people 65 and older, and Medicaid, which covers the poor, elderly and disabled, account for 21.7 percent and 18.6 percent of the insured population respectively. Another 3 percent of Floridians with health insurance obtained it through the Veterans Administration, according to the data.
The remaining people obtained their insurance, according to the Census data, by directly purchasing policies. For many people, that meant buying policies on the federal health-care exchange, which was created through the Affordable Care Act.
Jodi Ray, director of the organization Florida Covering Kids & Families, said she wasn’t surprised by the Census data.
Florida Covering Kids & Families works to provide education, training and enrollment assistance to help people obtain health coverage. As she travels the state, it’s not unusual for her, she said, to speak with residents who aren’t aware that they can enroll in the federal health insurance exchange.
“It never fails to shock me when I hear them say, ‘I thought that went away,’ “she said.