Census: Median income on rise
Lack of state budget still a concern
Household incomes are rising, poverty rates are falling and the number of uninsured Americans is declining nationwide, according to new census figures released this week.
The median household income increased nationwide between 2015 and 2016, from $57,230 to $59,039 — the second consecutive annual increase in income. During that same period, the nation’s official poverty rate fell by 0.8 percent and the number of people without health insurance dropped by almost 1 million.
But experts wondered if those positive trends would continue in the future, given issues with the state budget and debates happening on the national stage.
“It’s been good news for the past several years, but we’re starting to get worried about what could happen in the very near future,” said Deb Polun, senior director of policy and outreach for the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut.
She said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed cuts to Connecticut’s Medicaid program, Husky A, that would effectively remove 9,500 low-income adults from the program. There’s also some concern that more insurers will leave Access Health CT, the insurance exchange set up through the Affordable Care Act.
And, of course, the multiple efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on the national stage have also created some uncertainty around health care, said Polun and other experts.
“We’re facing very precarious times,” said Patricia Baker, president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation, which pushes for health care access for all Connecticut residents, particularly low-income individuals.
On Thursday, the census
will release information on income, poverty and health insurance for states, counties and geographic units with populations of 65,000 or more. But there was some state-by-state data released this week, mainly regarding health insurance.
The percentage of uninsured people in Connecticut fell from 9.4 percent in 2013 to 4.9 percent in 2016. Massachusetts was the state with the lowest percentage of uninsured people, at 2.5 percent and the highest was in Texas, where 16.6 of the population was uninsured.
Poverty in the state also seemed to be falling. The census report including state-by-state data comparing the average poverty rates over two two-year period — 2013-2014 and 20152016. In Connecticut, the rate dipped slightly from 9.7 percent in 2013-14 to 9.5 in 2015-16.
No state-by-state data on median household was available for the release, but the Northeast, which includes Connecticut, did have the highest median household income, at $64,390.
Polun said these numbers look great but “we are extremely concerned, for a number of reasons.” Some of those are linked to the fact that the state still hasn’t approved a budget (though a vote is planned for today). But experts also expressed concern about the fate of Access Health CT.
Malloy’s office announced Wednesday that Anthem and ConnectiCare Benefits, Inc. committed to participate in Access Health CT for 2018, according to a release. About 100,000 state residents purchase coverage through the exchange, the release said.
“With President Trump and Republicans in Congress attempting to sabotage the American healthcare system, we are incredibly pleased that Anthem and ConnectiCare will be offering health insurance plans in 2018 through Access Health CT,” Malloy said in the release. “We appreciate their commitment to the tens of thousands of Connecticut residents who buy coverage though Access Health. I am grateful for the leadership of Lt. (Gov.) Wyman, Commissioner (Katharine) Wade, and Access Health CT CEO Jim Wadleigh for their work to improve the stability of Connecticut’s insurance marketplace.”
The insurers offering plans on the exchange — Anthem and ConnectiCare — had until Friday to decide whether they’re going to remain on the exchange.
Other concerns involve what’s been happening on the national stage. One of President Trump’s major campaign promises was repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and there have been several attempts to do so, though none have succeeded.
Still, Baker said the national debate over healthcare has created some confusion about whether the ACA was still in place. When the new open enrollment period starts Nov. 1, “we’re going to have to spend a lot of time clarifying things and educating people.”
There have also been concerns from health care advocates that Trump’s administration will simply allow Obamacare to fade away. Late last month, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department said it planned to slash the Affordable Care Act advertising budget by roughly 90 percent.
Moves like this are a concern, as it could deter people from signing up or re-enrolling, said Ashley Blanchard, public policy and research analyst for BCAC Lifebridge, which advocates for the well-being for children and families in Bridgeport. Like the other experts, Blanchard feared positive trends in the census report could be headed for a reversal. But, she said “it’s tough to know what the future holds.”
Open enrollment though Access Heath CT begins Nov. 1.