Number of Americans without health insurance growing, census saysVermont fares better than rest of nation (VT Press Bureau)

By Louis Porter Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER — Vermont is doing better than the country overall in terms of how many of its residents have health insurance.

However, roughly 10 percent of the state's population continues to go without health coverage, according to new data released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday. Nationwide 15.8 percent of residents do not have health insurance.

State officials preparing for the launch this year of the new Catamount Health insurance program hope it will not only prevent that number from growing in the state, but actually reduce it.

At the same time, although Vermont's median income rose between 2005 and 2006 — when the data the report is based on was collected — the state's income rose at a much slower rate than that of the country at large.

Vermont's median household income increased by 0.4 percent, while the income of households in the United States rose by 1.6 percent. In total dollars earned, the state had nearly the same median household income — $47,665 — as the United States as a whole at $48,451.

At the same time, the number of residents of the country without health insurance grew from 44.8 million in 2005 to 47 million, said David Johnson, chief of the Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division for the Census Bureau. And the number of uninsured children climbed from 10.9 percent to 11.7 percent in the country.

Vermont has fared better than the country as a whole, but has also seen an increase in the uninsured since 2000. That is projected to continue, one reason why state officials have revised their estimates of those who will be eligible for the Catamount Health insurance program.

The greatest cause of the increase in the uninsured nationally is the loss of private insurance coverage, Johnson said.

That is also the part of the system that has seen the fastest increase in cost — especially the cost of "non-group" or individual insurance plans, officials said.

"Catamount is intended to not only stave that off but to reverse the trend," said Joshua Slen, of the Office of Vermont Health Care Access.

"We all the time get calls from people who are uninsured. We always have," said Trinka Kerr, state health care ombudsman. "There are not really good options" for them.

Vermonters of any income can enroll in the Catamount Health insurance program, but it is only subsidized by the state for up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, roughly $62,000 in combined income for a family of four. Above that, premiums are expected to be close to $400 a month.

A detailed survey of households in Vermont by the state found that roughly 10 percent of those without insurance earned enough to be above the 300 percent of poverty limit to be eligible for subsidized Catamount Health insurance.

"If they are above the 300 percent of poverty it is good coverage but it is just as expensive as some of the individual plans," Kerr said.

In addition there are limits on when people are eligible for the program. For instance some Vermonters will have to have been without insurance for a year to qualify — unless they have lost their insurance by losing a job or getting a divorce.