Recession’s Toll: More Alabamians in poverty, uninsured in 2008-09


The recession has left more Alabamians in poverty and without health insurance coverage, new U.S. Census Bureau data released recently suggest. But those numbers would have been even larger without federal recovery spending and increased Medicaid enrollment, Arise Citizens’ Policy Project Executive Director Kimble Forrister said.
Because Alabama did not begin to feel the blunt of the recession until late 2008, Forrister said, the 2008-09 averages do not reflect the downturn’s full effects in the state. Despite improvement in recent months, Alabama’s unemployment rate is still up almost 60 percent from its October 2008 level.
More than 670,000 Alabamians, or 16.8 percent of residents under age 65, lacked health insurance in 2008-09, according to Census data. That figure is up from 15.4 percent in 2006-07, though the change falls within the margin of error. The uninsured rate fell from 7.4 percent in 2006-07 to 5.8 percent in 2008-09, largely because of a dramatic increase in Medicaid coverage.
Medicaid enrollment in Alabama has jumped by more than 150,000 since 2006-07, including about 112,000 more children, according to Census data. That 28 percent Medicaid increase came amid rising unemployment that resulted in fewer Alabamians receiving health insurance through employers.
More than one in seven Alabamians, or 15.4 percent, were in poverty in 2008-09. That figure was well above the national average of 13.8 percent and up from the state’s average of 14.4 percent in 2006-07, though the change falls within the margin of error. Alabama’s median household income has held steady since 2006-07.
Forrister said low-income tax credits and food stamp increases in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which are not reflected in the official poverty figures, kept thousands of Alabamians out of poverty. He also said the state’s higher uninsured rate underscores the importance of health care reform. Forrister said the new law would have reduced the number of uninsured Alabamians significantly had it been in effect last year.
“We aren’t out of the woods yet, so now is not the time to let Recovery Act assistance for our friends and neighbors expire,” Forrister said. “We should extend unemployment benefits and tax credits for working families who, through no fault of their own, are unable to find jobs or earn enough to make ends meet.”
Thousands of Alabamians will benefit from major new provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that took effect recently. Among those gaining the new protections are children under age 19 with pre-existing conditions, young adults under age 26, and people with chronic health conditions or a catastrophic illness. The benefits are part of the ACA’s Patient’s Bill of Rights.
Beginning Sept. 23, insurers had to cover all children who apply, regardless of health status. No longer can insurance companies deny coverage to children with asthma, for example, or any other illness or condition. Nor can insurers exclude coverage of necessary treatment for such existing health factors. The requirement applies to all new policies and to so-called “grandfathered” group plans – those that existed when the law was signed on March 23. It does not apply to grandfathered individual plans.
Under the new provisions, young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26 (unless the young adult is eligible for insurance at work). The new provisions also:
· eliminate lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits, such as hospital stays, and restricts annual limits on these benefits;
·protects patients’ choice of primary care doctor or pediatrician and allows women to go directly to their OB/GYN without a referral;
·requires that new private insurance plans cover preventive services – such as colonoscopies and mammograms – with no out-of-pocket charges; and
·keeps insurers from rescinding, or canceling, coverage when the insured person gets sick.
“With each round of new benefits, the Affordable Care Act is bringing peace of mind to more and more Alabama families,” ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister said. “We have to make sure Alabama is ready to chip in its small share of the cost when the time comes. Alabamians deserve the same protections that all other Americans receive.”

Arise Citizens’ Policy Project is a nonprofit statewide citizens’ organization comprising 150 congregations and community groups that promote public policies to improve the lives of low-income Alabamians.

Jim Carnes
Communications Director
Arise Citizens’ Policy Project
P.O. Box 1188
Montgomery, AL 36101
334.832.9060

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