Upstate New York Has Relatively High Job-Based Health Insurance Coverage and Below-Average Uninsured Rates

Upstate New York’s uninsured rate is 5 percentage points lower than the national average, thanks in part to higher levels of employment-based health insurance coverage in the region, according to a census data analysis issued today by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

With a population of more than 6 million residents, upstate New York has more residents than 34 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and it’s among the 10 most favorable places to live when it comes to health insurance coverage. Upstate New York’s three-year average (2008 through 2010) uninsured rate is 11.1 percent, lower than the New York state average of 14.6 percent and national average of 16.1.

Comparing these numbers to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s previous (2003) research on the uninsured in upstate New York shows that the uninsured rate has grown by almost 2 percentage points over the past decade.

Upstate New York’s relatively favorable health insurance coverage rate goes hand-in-hand with the comparatively large share of residents who have job-based health benefits. From 2008 through 2010, the employer-based coverage rate was 62.4 percent in upstate New York and about 56 percent statewide and across the U.S.

“It’s encouraging to see that even though upstate New York’s uninsured rate has gone up over the past 10 years, the region still has such a high percentage of people who access health insurance through the workplace,” said Dr. Arthur Vercillo, regional president, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Upstate New York’s low uninsured numbers no doubt are related to the broader reach of employer-based coverage here, compared to the state and the rest of the country.”

The Facts About Employer-Based Health Coverage And Uninsured Rates In Upstate New York also highlights the uninsured and employment-based health insurance rates in upstate New York’s four largest urban areas (Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse).

Combined, these four urban centers are home to about two-thirds of the total upstate New York population. Just 9 percent of these residents are uninsured, and 62.7 percent have employer-sponsored health coverage. The uninsured rate is 13.1 percent in Albany, 11.6 percent in Syracuse, 10.0 percent in Buffalo and 6.3 percent in Rochester. The job-based coverage rate in these areas ranges from 61.4 percent in Syracuse to 67.4 percent in Albany.

By comparison, the combination of smaller metropolitan and nonurban communities that comprise the balance of upstate New York have a higher uninsured rate (13.0 percent) and a slightly lower job-based coverage rate (62.1 percent).

What explains upstate New York’s lower uninsured rate?

Lower health care costs in upstate New York may explain why the region has higher levels of employment-based health insurance coverage and a lower-than-average uninsured rate.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s analysis of uninsured rates presents data from The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care suggesting that health care costs less in upstate New York than it does statewide and nationally. Data from this nationally known source of health care cost variations reveal that Medicare spending (an indicator of costs) in upstate New York has been consistently lower than corresponding statewide and national figures.

“National research has linked the growing uninsured rate to rising health care costs, which drive health insurance premium increases,” noted Vercillo. “Higher premiums are passed on to the employers that provide health insurance benefits. Employers are faced with difficult decisions about shifting higher costs to employees or taking other measures, such as reducing benefits or limiting eligibility, that end up restricting employee access to affordable coverage.”

According to The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, Medicare spending in 2008 was $7,193 per upstate New York recipient, 30 percent less than the statewide figure ($10,267) and 20 percent less than the national figure ($9,021). Per-enrollee spending was $7,927 in Buffalo, $7,534 in Syracuse, $7,279 in Albany and $7,037 in Rochester (where uninsured rates are the lowest among the four largest upstate New York metropolitan areas).

“Upstate New Yorkers are fortunate to live in a region where the average cost of health care has stayed below statewide and national averages,” Vercillo concluded. “Lower health care costs lead to the lower premiums that make health insurance coverage affordable, extending job-based coverage and keeping uninsured rates in check.”

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s full library of reports and fact sheets is available on the Web at excellusbcbs.com. Select “News & Information” located at the bottom of the page and then choose “Fact Sheets, Surveys & Reports.”

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a nonprofit independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association, is part of a family of companies that finances and delivers vital health care services to 1.8 million people across upstate New York. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield provides access to high-quality, affordable health coverage, including valuable health-related resources that our members use every day, such as cost-saving prescription drug discounts and wellness tracking tools in our Step Up program. To learn more, visit excellusbcbs.com.