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Health insurance

About 11.1 percent of Nebraskans had no health insurance in 2008, according to new figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The latest update by census officials put the national percentage of uninsured for last year at 15.1 and ranked Nebraska 16th lowest in the nation among states.

David Drozd, a census specialist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said a breakdown of the numbers of uninsured people under age 65 shows Nebraska at 12.7 percent and the national percentage at 17.

"The numbers from the Current Population Survey, which has been given some direction in the past, have consistently shown Nebraska to be below the U.S. average," Drozd said, "and that's where we are again."

Drozd's analysis also suggests that Nebraska has been bucking a national trend toward increasing numbers of uninsured during a period of national recession.

Nebraska's overall percentage of 11.1 is down from the 11.9 percent that turned up in a Current Population Survey last September.

That apparent improvement, in a braoder American community survey, may not last long.

"What we do see in Nebraska is that unemployment started to rise just a little bit toward the end of the year," he said, "so we were still not capturing the full effect of the economic downturn."

The Nebraska results are based on 17,500 responses and Dr. John Benson, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, called them "very significant, because you're dealing with large numbers" of census replies.

There could be several reasons for the disparity between state and national figures, Benson said, including "an awful lot of Latinos in California without jobs, maybe 25 percent of them there, and we don't have that kind of population."

Benson and Dr. Richard O'Brien, a professor at the Creighton University Medical Center, co-chaired a Nebraska Medical Association Health Care Reform Task Force that determined last year that about 1 in 10 Nebraskans were uninsured.

O'Brien said the census numbers appear credible. However, "you have to keep in mind that the survey asked people about being uninsured for the whole year, actually the whole year of 2008.

"And we know some people were uninsured for less than the whole year, so some people don't get counted."

The latest census data on the uninsured is in line with the results of a recent Nebraska Rural Poll. It put the percentage of uninsured rural Nebraskans under age 65 at 12 percent.

Randy Cantrell, who helps sift through poll results at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Nebraska Rural Initiative, said that statistic is based on mailed replies from 2,852 Nebraskans.

"If you're uninsured," said Creighton's O'Brien, "it doesn't matter if it's 11 percent or 30 percent. For you, it's 100 percent."

The census figures offer several breakdowns of uninsured statistics by Public Use Microdata Areas, including Lancaster County.

Using Lincoln's O Street as the north-south dividing line, that approach showed that 11.5 percent of people living north of O are uninsured, compared to 7.1 percent south of O.

In a related development Monday, the Associated Press cited an economic think tank's report on financial security in Nebraska.

The Corporation for Enterprise Development gave the state a "D" in health care, noting that it is 48th among the 50 states for employers who offer health insurance to their workers.

Reach Art Hovey at 473-7223 or at ahovey@journalstar.com.

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