Utah’s Uninsured Rate Continues to Rise

April 12, 2007

The number of uninsured Utah residents increased from 2005 to 2006, although at a slower rate than the previous two years.

The Utah Department of Health, which released the most recent figures Tuesday, expects the reopening of a state-federal program this summer will cut the total even more, but that would still leave hundreds of thousands without health insurance.

“It’s good that it’s slowing down, but it’s still going in the wrong direction,” said Norman Thurston, a health economist for the state Health Department. “We would really like to see that turn around and go down.”

According to the agency, there were an estimated 306,500 uninsured people in Utah in 2006, an increase of 13,700 from 2005. The total had increased 41,400 from 2004-2005 and 36,900 the year before that.

The increase last year was primarily among children, whose parents are not covered.

“Children are really at the mercy of what adults do for them, so it’s alarming in that sense,” Thurston said.

The state hopes to have the total number of uninsured cut by more than half to 150,000 over the next three years, regardless of whether Congress makes any progress on the contentious issue over that time.

Any extra funding from the federal government would be great, Thurston said, but the state isn’t counting on it.

“We’re pressing forward whether or not the feds come through,” he said.

The latest move to assist the uninsured is reopening enrollment in the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, a state and federal partnership that shut down in September when the funding ran out.

The Legislature appropriated $4 million this year that will insure 12,000 more children than had been enrolled before.

Jennifer Erickson, a spokeswoman for the program, said CHIP had funding to insure an average of about 35,000 children when the money ran out last fall. That total and the additional 12,000 children could be covered. Erickson said the average cost per child was $122.55 in 2006.

Enrollment for the program reopens July 2 and is expected to remain open for about a year.

“We’re starting to get the word out,” Erickson said.

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