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StarBulletin.com

Hawaii has best health coverage record


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WASHINGTON » American workers — whose taxes pay for massive government health programs — are getting squeezed like no other group by private health insurance premiums that are rising much faster than their wages.

While just about all retirees are covered, and nearly 90 percent of children have health insurance, workers now are at significantly higher risk of being uninsured than in the 1990s, the last time lawmakers attempted a health care overhaul, according to a study to be released today.

Hawaii had the best score of all the states, with just 9 percent of workers not covered by health insurance. State officials credit a state law that requires employers to provide health care benefits to those who work at least 20 hours a week. The large number of government employees in the work force also was cited for the high score.

Lillian Koller, director of the Department of Human Services, said, “;Hawaii has long been a national leader in health insurance coverage.”;

She credited the state's Prepaid Health Care Act of 1974, which made Hawaii the first state to establish minimum mandatory health care benefits for employees. In addition, since 2006 the Lingle administration “;significantly expanded eligibility for free Medicaid health insurance,”; Koller said in a written statement.

State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations spokesman Ryan Markham said the widespread health insurance coverage could also be attributed to the large proportion of the work force in federal, state and city government jobs. Many workers in the private sector are provided good health insurance benefits because they work under collective bargaining contracts, he said.

The study for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that nearly 1 in 5 workers is uninsured, a statistically significant increase from fewer than 1 in 7 during the mid-1990s.

The problem is cost. Total premiums for employer plans have risen six to eight times faster than wages, depending on whether individual or family coverage is picked, the study found.

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Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Adamski and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

THE TOP 5

The five areas with the lowest percentages of uninsured workers ages 19 to 64 in 2006-07 and in 1994-95:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Area2006-071994-95
Hawaii9.09.0
Wis.10.19.3
Minn.10.210.1
Pa.11.010.6
D.C.11.316.4

Source: State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota; U.S. Census Bureau