17.4 percent in S.C. lack health insurance

Nearly one in six South Carolinians don't have health insurance, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

South Carolina had a 17.4 percent rate statewide. Texas, with a statewide average of 24.1 percent, was at the bottom of the heap. Massachusetts topped all states with 4.1 percent lacking health coverage.

Columbia ranked 292th with a 16.6 percent uninsured rate. Charleston was 206th with 14.1 percent; Rock Hill, 352nd with 18.6 percent; and North Charleston, 481st with 25.1 percent.

Mount Pleasant had the lowest percentage of people lacking health insurance in 2008 among relatively large cities in the Southeast. Its 6.2 percent ranked 22nd among all U.S. cities.

The figures come from the U.S. Census Bureau, which obtained data from the nation's 532 cities with populations of at least 65,000.

The census numbers are no surprise, said Dr. Casey Fitts, founder of Tri-County Project Care in the Charleston area. Rates of uninsured are higher where a higher percentage of poor live.

But, he said, there's another story under the surface.

"There are people who work and can't afford health insurance," Fitts said. "And for us who pay taxes and have health insurance, an estimated $2,000 is cost-shifted to us every year."

Fitts' Project Care is a nonprofit relief agency that recently opened its membership to qualified uninsured workers and small businesses with three or more employees.

Fitts said that, with political will, South Carolina can put itself in position to be a leader in providing health care reform. As an example, he pointed to support of a cigarette tax, as proposed by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, that would provide subsidies to community care clinics.

The statistics were part of the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which provides a statistical portrait of the characteristics of the nation's population in 2008. Health insurance coverage was one of three new topics added to the survey for 2008.

Every question on the ACS is included either because the data is required to satisfy one or more federal laws, regulations or court decisions, or is needed to manage federal programs and allocate more than $400 billion of federal tax dollars annually to states and local communities.

The ongoing survey of about 3 million addresses every year provides one of the most complete pictures of our population available. It covers more than 40 topics, such as income, educational attainment, housing and family structure.