(News-Press.com) - One out of every five Floridians were without health insurance the year before the Affordable Care Act's 2014 insurance requirements took effect, new U.S. Census Bureau figures show.
That 20 percent rate, equivalent to nearly 3.9 million residents, made Florida third worst in the nation for insurance coverage, behind Texas (22 percent) and Nevada (20.7 percent). Massachusetts had the nation's best rate: 3.7 percent.
The census numbers don't measure the impact of Obamacare, whose new insurance policies took effect Jan. 1. But they will provide a baseline measure for future assessments of the health law.
Nearly a million adults signed up for health policies in Florida, according to initial government estimates. State officials said last month that the figure is probably closer to 800,000.
"Nothing surprising here. Florida is a leader in uninsured (rates)," said Jim Nathan, president and CEO of the Fort Myers-based Lee Memorial Health System. "Had Florida also not been the top state in the nation in helping get individuals to qualify for the health exchanges we would have lost ground since nearly 1 million signed up."
The numbers are even higher in Southwest Florida, according to earlier surveys and census estimates. As much as 26 percent of Lee County residents and 29 percent of Collier County residents under the age of 65 are uninsured, according to the recent reports.
For now, it's unclear how much those rates of uninsured might now be dropping here and statewide.
State lawmakers, particularly those in the GOP-controlled state House of Representatives, have opposed expanding eligibility for the Medicaid program for low-income residents. Roughly a million Floridians would have qualified.
Opponents of the expansion say they worry the federal government won't keep its promise to fund most of the expense in years to come. Supporters of an expanded Medicaid, including many of the state's hospitals, say the Legislature is needlessly keeping low-income Floridians uninsured and turning away $50 billion in federal funds.
An unrelated report this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that working-age adults in states that had not expanded Medicaid were more likely to be uninsured than those in states that had.
The CDC concluded that Florida was among 10 states — most in the South — that had rates of uninsured adults "significantly" higher than the rest of the nation in the first three months of 2014.
"We certainly have no doubt that the uninsurance rate has dropped significantly in 2014, although not as much as it would have if Florida had expanded Medicaid," said Greg Mellowe, policy director for the health policy group Florida CHAIN.