Nearly 12 percent of Long Islanders younger than 65 -- about 280,000 people -- lacked health insurance in 2010, a "statistically significant" increase from a year earlier.
The new health insurance coverage information for states and counties, released by the U.S. Census Bureau Wednesday, showed Nassau County's uninsured population grew about 1 percentage point between 2009 and 2010, a bureau analyst said.
Nassau went from an estimated 10.5 percent uninsured in 2009 to 11.6 percent in 2010, according to the bureau's Small Area Health Insurance Estimates. Suffolk County's uninsured population remained essentially flat: 11.5 percent in 2009 to 11.8 percent in 2010. The increases have raised concerns among some local advocates, who say it indicates the need for health care reform.
Statewide, the rate of those without insurance was more than 13 percent.
"The estimate is up significantly for Nassau, but not for Suffolk," said Wes Basel, chief of the bureau's small area estimates program.
While the reason for the increases was unclear, Dr. Steven Walerstein, executive vice president for medical affairs and medical director of NuHealth System, which includes Nassau University Medical Center and the A. Holly Patterson Extended Care facility, hypothesized the increase in Nassau's uninsured was related to the "economic slowdown and unemployment increases." A loss of a job for many people means loss of health insurance. "Overall, I'm not surprised at the percentages," he said.
The uninsured rate in New York State was 13.7 percent in 2010, up from 13.2 percent the year before among the under-65 population, according to the estimates.
Those 65 and older qualify for Medicare coverage.
Local advocates expressed concern.
"First and foremost, a state like New York and counties like Nassau and Suffolk shouldn't have such a high uninsured" rate, said Gwen O'Shea, president and chief executive of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island.
"We don't want to see any levels of uninsured," said Janine Logan, spokeswoman for the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council. "People who are uninsured put off getting the primary care and preventative care that people with insurance would access."
She added, "Any level of uninsured is not good for the person and for society overall, because it's only in the end going to . . . exacerbate the condition and exacerbate the cost."
Health insurance coverage data also were broken out by income, from people earning 138 percent to 400 percent of the poverty threshold. Those with incomes at 400 percent of poverty, roughly $85,000, comprised many families on Long Island, O'Shea said.
Told that 22 percent of that group in Nassau and 20 percent in Suffolk didn't have health insurance, O'Shea said, "To me, that just reinforces the importance of health care reform."
O'Shea said the coming development of health care exchanges in New York to provide "access to affordable, comprehensive health care" -- a result of health care reform legislation largely upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court -- will be especially important for people in this income group, among others.