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One in 5 Georgians without health coverage
Poverty rate in Georgia up in 2009
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Nationally, and here in Georgia, the rate of uninsured residents worsened yet again in 2009.  More than one in five Georgians lacked health coverage in 2008 and 2009 (20.9 percent of the population), according to the new Census Bureau data released today. This represents an increase from the pre-recession years of 2006-2007, when 19.2 percent of Georgians went without coverage. (The Census Bureau averages two years of survey data in order to improve the reliability of the estimates.)
 Georgia's rate was above the national rate of 18.8 percent of non-elderly Americans lacking health insurance in 2009. (The 2-year national average for 2008-2009 is 18.1 percent.) The figures in Georgia and the nation as a whole would likely have been even higher without the federal subsidies included in the 2009 Recovery Act to help workers retain their employer health coverage after losing their job, as well as the additional federal Medicaid funding that helped prevent state cutbacks in crucial public coverage.
 "The new health insurance figures offer additional evidence of how hard the recession hit the nation and Georgia," asserted Tim Sweeney, senior healthcare analyst with the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. "These figures illustrate the incredible importance of programs that help Georgia's children and families receive needed healthcare services, as well as highlight the need to expand assistance to more families in need throughout Georgia."
Erosion of employer-sponsored health insurance is the primary cause of the lost ground in coverage.  Fifty-nine percent of Georgians had employer-provided coverage in 2008-2009, down from 62.6 percent in 2006 and 2007 - before the national recession hit. Public programs such as Medicaid can help cushion the loss in employer coverage; however, Georgia's Medicaid eligibility thresholds for adults are very low. As a result, many low-income adults are ineligible for Medicaid and find themselves without coverage.
Thanks to more generous eligibility standards for children in Georgia's Medicaid and PeachCare programs, the overall uninsurance rate among children remained low at 10.9 percent. Overall, Medicaid covered 13.4 percent of Georgia's residents in 2008-2009, which represents a slight increase from pre-recession 12.8 percent.
"The continued decline in employer-sponsored coverage shows the importance of the new federal health reform law, which will extend coverage to an additional 32 million people through health insurance exchanges or under Medicaid," said Sweeney. "This law provides new help to individuals and employers in Georgia, and will contribute significant new funds to Georgia's healthcare sector throughout the state."
In 2009, 43.6 million Americans lived in poverty, the largest number on record according to new Census Bureau data. The national poverty rate jumped to 14.3 percent in 2009 from 13.2 percent in 2008.
The preliminary state-level data, based on 2-year averages, shows that poverty rose dramatically in Georgia, with 393,000 additional Georgians joining the ranks of the poor in 2008 and 2009. Georgia's poverty rate rose to 16.9 percent for the years 2008-2009 from 13.1 percent for 2006-2007. The Census Bureau will release more authoritative state-by-state estimates of poverty on September 28th.
The poverty rate would have risen even further had it not been for key public benefit programs and the expansions made to them under the 2009 Recovery Act. Unemployment insurance benefits alone kept 3.3 million people out of poverty in 2009, according to analysis of the Census data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
"Many more middle- and low-income families will fall into poverty unless several Recovery Act provisions, such as unemployment insurance benefits and the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits, are extended or made permanent," said Clare S. Richie, senior policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. "Congress should also extend the TANF emergency fund, which would help Georgia create and preserve thousands of jobs and boost local economies."

Georgia Budget & Policy Institute is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.
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