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Excellus: Percentage of people without health insurance drops in upstate NY

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield
A graphic from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield shows the company's estimates of the percentage of people without health insurance in various New York state regions.

The percentage of people without health insurance in upstate New York has fallen to its lowest number in years, according to the area’s largest health insurance provider.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield CEO Chris Booth said the legal and business climate in upstate New York means health insurance locally is less expensive than in many parts of the United States.

“You really do not have for-profit medicine in the upstate New York and Rochester area, nor do you have for-profit health insurers with any meaningful market share,” Booth said. “Therefore, it’s a very different market than many of the other places in the country.”

Still, he said, 3% to 4% of the population in the Rochester area lacks health insurance. Booth acknowledged that it’s out of reach for some people.

“Even though we’re more affordable than the rest of the country, it’s still very expensive, and that causes pain to people,” he said. “Health care is still expensive, even if it’s cheaper here.”

Excellus based its numbers on data from the American Community Survey, which asks people about their health insurance status each year.

The federal census bureau, which runs the community survey, said it can’t confirm or deny the accuracy of Excellus’ data interpretation, but that uninsurance rates in New York are on the low side of national statistics.

The lowest rate is in Massachusetts, at about 2.8%. The highest is in Texas, at more than 17%.

The other major health insurance provider in the Rochester area, MVP Health Care, also said it could not quickly verify Excellus' data, but CEO Christopher Del Vecchio said the expansion of affordable health care options in New York in recent years has helped lower the rate of people without insurance.

Both Del Vecchio and Booth said they support universal health insurance to make sure every person has access to health care.

"Our job's not done until everyone is covered, regardless of someone's employment or economic status," Del Vecchio said.

Booth explained that he is not a supporter of government as the sole provider of universal health insurance. Private companies are still necessary, he said.

“We’ve gotten over 96% of our population covered today. Why blow up the whole thing? Instead, let’s see what’s left and figure out what’s the best way of getting the balance of people covered,” said Booth.

Increased outreach and government programs to make insurance more affordable would help further reduce the number of people without insurance, Booth said.

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