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November 24, 2014

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Study paints bleak picture of health insurance coverage

More than a third of Nevadans under 65 without coverage sometime in last two years

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

More than a third of Nevada’s residents under 65 were without health insurance at some point in 2007 and 2008, according to a new study by a health care reform advocacy group.

The study, released today by Families USA, shows that 841,000 Nevadans under 65 years old, the eligible age for Medicare, were uninsured during the two years surveyed. That is 37.2 percent of the total population under 65.

More than 80 percent of those without health insurance were in working families, the study showed, and more than 25 percent were in families making more than $42,400 a year, twice the nation’s poverty level.

The group is releasing statistics on all 50 states over the next two weeks.

“The figures are appalling,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on a conference call about the study. But he added, “Given the state of the economy, health care and system, they are not a surprise, I am sorry to say.”

The study comes out as Reid has been advocating for President Barack Obama’s health care reform plan. The numbers show that reform needs to come this year, he said.

Reid noted that four out of five of the uninsured are in working families. “These are not bums sleeping under railroad cars at night,” he said.

Sen. Max Backus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is working on a bill to decrease the number of uninsured, Reid said, and he backed that effort.

Health care reform will ultimately save money, Reid said. Too much money is spent on uninsured people going to emergency rooms for primary health care, he said.

“For every dollar invested in health care, we save $7,” he said. “People ask, how can we afford to do anything about health care? How can we not afford it?”

Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack said that since the time of the study, many more people have lost jobs and their health coverage.

In addition, he said, more than three-quarters of the people uninsured in the study lacked health coverage for at least six months.

The study also shows that Hispanics, blacks and other minorities are more likely to be uninsured than whites, Pollock said.

Many minorities work for small businesses that don’t provide health care coverage or work part time and do not qualify, he said.

Bob Fulkerson, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said Hispanics, however, were more likely to be insured in Nevada than in other states that have been studied so far.

“My hunch is the reason we’re a little better off would be because of the preponderance of Hispanics working for unionized casinos in Las Vegas,” he said.

Still, Fulkerson said, the nation’s health-care reform has to address the disparity in coverage among races.

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