Isles see increase
Census figures show 10.7%
of state residents were living
below poverty levels
The ranks of the uninsured and the number of people in Hawaii who live below the poverty line edged upward last year but still compared favorably with national statistics in those categories, according to new figures released yesterday by the Census Bureau.
An average of 9.9 percent of the state's 1.2 million residents -- about 120,000 -- were without health insurance from 2001 to 2003, according to the bureau. That figure was up slightly from an average of 9.7 percent for the previous three-year period and the highest level since 1994-96.
Nationwide in 2003, about 45 million people, or 15.6 percent of the population, lacked health insurance, up from 43.5 million the previous year.
Hawaii still has one of the best coverage rates in the country, but many lament the increase during the last 20 years in the number of people who do not have health insurance. As few as 2 percent of Hawaii residents were uninsured after the passage of the landmark Prepaid Health Care Act in 1974.
Under the law, employees who work 20 hours or more per week for four consecutive weeks must be given coverage with a premium that costs no more than 1.5 percent of their salary.
Rep. Dennis Arakaki, chairman of the House Health Committee, attributed some of the increase in the number of uninsured to more employers hiring part-time workers and enrollment caps placed on Medicaid's QUEST program.
He said the state also must do a better job of making sure that children are insured.
"Coupled with the fact that -- even for those who are working -- health insurance premiums have been going up as well, people are making the choice not to be insured," said Arakaki (D, Alewa Heights-Kalihi).
Gov. Linda Lingle has called for greater funding of community health centers and increased competition among insurers to battle the growing number of uninsured people in the state. She also has signed into law legislation creating programs aimed at reducing the cost of prescription drugs for poor people.
Arakaki -- who has twice been unsuccessful in getting lawmakers to go along with a plan for universal health care in Hawaii -- called such measures a good step, "although they're more like Band-Aid approaches."
Census figures also showed an average of 10.7 percent of Hawaii residents were living below the federal poverty level from 2001 to 2003. That figure was up slightly from 10.6 percent from the three-year period of 2000 to 2002.
Nationwide, about 35.8 million people -- or 12.5 percent of the population -- lived below the poverty line in 2003. That was up from 34.5 million, or 12.1 percent in 2002, according to the Census Bureau.
The Census Bureau's definition of poverty varies by the size of the household. For instance, the annual income threshold for a family of four was $18,810, while for two people it was $12,015. The three-year average has increased every year since 1996-98.
Meanwhile, the median household income in Hawaii averaged $49,839 from 2001 to 2003, above the national average of $43,527 during the same three-year period.