New census data spotlight health insurance coverage

Vincente Sobredo, 71, of Uruguay, as he has

Vincente Sobredo, 71, of Uruguay, as he has facial surgery performed at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. (Aug. 6, 2008) (Credit: Jim Peppler)

New U.S. Census Bureau data for the first time show health insurance information at the community level, with 16 Long Island villages and hamlets registering uninsured rates of 20 percent and higher.

The five-year American Community Survey statistics, from 2008 through 2012, highlight socioeconomic conditions on Long Island that local experts said Tuesday underscore the need for affordable insurance. Twelve of the 16 communities are in Suffolk County -- with eight of those on the East End -- and four are in Nassau.

Having "small area" information on health insurance coverage "to us is meaningful," said Jeffrey Kraut, senior vice president for strategy and business informatics at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

Data only at the county or even the town level "obscures the problems in our backyards," Kraut said. "When we get to the smallest areas, we better understand what our challenges are," and officials can better focus on areas lacking in health insurance coverage.

Alan Murray, president and chief executive of North Shore-LIJ Care Connect Insurance Co., expects the census data to help the new insurance company "to bring programs to communities and target to them exactly what they need." The insurance company is a subsidiary of the health system.

The census data provide statistical estimates on some 40 topics, including demographics, education, housing, labor and income. They provide information for all geographic areas: the nation, states, counties, towns, villages and even the smallest hamlets.

The five-year estimates featured several new categories, such as information on when people were naturalized as citizens, and the number of people with service-related disabilities.

The data for Long Island show:

The number of people who became naturalized citizens in 2010 or later was 5,576 in Nassau County and 3,565 in Suffolk County. Overall, there were 174,788 naturalized citizens in Nassau and 102,546 in Suffolk.

The number of people with service-connected disabilities was 6,804 in Nassau and 9,057 in Suffolk over the five-year period.

Among the 16 communities with uninsured rates of 20 percent or higher were New Cassel (29.8 percent), Hempstead Village (27 percent) and Brentwood (25.4 percent), a finding that several local experts said did not surprise them. "The Affordable Care Act should have substantial impact on those communities" in a few years, Kraut said, referring to the national health care reform law.

Those rates are far higher than for Nassau and Suffolk counties overall, the census data show. The uninsured rate for Nassau County was 8.8 percent, and for Suffolk, 10.1 percent.

Kraut said higher uninsured rates "correlate with citizenship, education and people of color." He cited census data showing that in Hempstead Village, the uninsured rate for residents who did not graduate from high school was 53 percent, whereas for those with a bachelor's degree, the uninsured rate was 15 percent.

Addressing areas in need

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, noted other contributing factors.

"The issue, particularly in poor places within wealthier regions, is a lack of communication, so that folks without insurance don't realize that it is available through government and other programs," Levy said. "And in other places, it may be a matter of a high rate of undocumented workers who aren't eligible, and they show up in emergency rooms at a much higher cost."

Janine Logan, spokeswoman for the Nassau Suffolk Hospital Council, an Islandia-based advocacy group for 24 hospitals, noted the "socioeconomic indicators" of some of the communities with high uninsured rates. "They're disadvantaged areas" where people are uninsured for a number of reasons, she said -- they may have jobs that don't provide insurance, they may not be working, or they may not be eligible for public health insurance.

"Hopefully [health care] reform will give those the opportunity to gain insurance," Logan said. "Even then, there's still a great number of undocumented people who don't have insurance, and they will not be purchasing on the [health care] exchange."

Health insurance, or the lack of it, has a broad impact on individuals and society, said Michael Zweig, an economics professor at Stony Brook University who directs the university's Center for Study of Working Class Life. "To an individual, of course, it means their health," Zweig said. "A person who is healthy is more economically productive in the community . . . requires fewer resources from the community -- emergency care and all that."

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