By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The percentage of Virginians without health insurance fell by 2 percentage points in 2015, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. All but two localities in Virginia saw a drop in the number of uninsured residents.
The uninsured population of Virginia fell from 12.4 percent in 2014 to 10.4 percent in 2015, the data showed. Nationwide, the proportion of Americans lacking health insurance went from 13.5 percent to 10.9 percent.
Health insurance has been the subject of political debate at the federal and state levels. The goal of the Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare, was to get more people insured. Republicans say the law has been a disaster; Democrats say it’s working but needs improvement.
Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Virginia ranked No. 28 in its percentage of uninsured residents in 2015. Massachusetts had the lowest uninsured population (3.2 percent); Texas had the highest (19.2 percent).
From 2014 to 2015, the uninsured population dropped in all states except South Dakota, where the percentage rose 0.2 percent.
Among Virginia localities, the city of Lexington showed the biggest decrease in uninsured residents: Its percentage fell from 15 percent to 10.2 percent. The uninsured rate also dropped significantly in Highland County, Cumberland County and Roanoke.
The city of Richmond also had a sizable decline: Its proportion of uninsured residents declined from 18.4 percent in 2014 to 14.5 percent the following year.
Despite the improvements, more than 15 percent of the population was uninsured in a dozen localities in Virginia, including Harrisonburg, Accomack County and Manassas Park.
In many states, the reason for the decrease in uninsured residents could be the expansion of Medicaid, the government-funded health program for lower-income Americans. The Affordable Care Act offered states federal funding to expand Medicaid. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have done so, according to the Census Bureau.
Other states, including Virginia, declined to expand Medicaid for fear that they would be saddled with the costs down the road.
On Monday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe again urged Virginia legislators to expand Medicaid.
“Failing to expand Medicaid has cost Virginia $10.4 billion and has left 400,000 of our residents without health care,” McAuliffe said. “President Trump’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed, and even Speaker (Paul) Ryan has said that Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future. The time has come for us to bring our taxpayer dollars back to serve the individuals who need them the most.”
Republicans, who control the Virginia General Assembly, are likely to reject McAuliffe’s request.