August 4, 2009
Surprising data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 25% of people in Charlottesville have no health insurance.
Charlottesville is home to some renowned hospitals: the University of Virginia Medical Center and Martha Jefferson. Yet one in four people in Charlottesville have no health insurance. Experts say more people go uninsured in college towns.
When Charlottesville resident Brittany Burgess turned 19, she stopped getting health insurance. She chooses not to get it now because she's healthy.
"I've never tried looking into getting everything. I'll just deal without it until I really need it," says Burgess.
The free clinic in Charlottesville serves hundreds of people every day who have no health insurance. The Executive Director says over 30% of young people go without.
"A lot of that has to do with trying to find jobs, or they might have beginning jobs that don't offer health insurance," explains Erika Viccellio, the Executive Director of the Charlottesville Free Clinic. "They're typically healthy, and they decide not to pay for expensive health insurance."
Viccellio says many college students also choose to stay in Charlottesville after attending school, which is driving up the uninsured rate, since there are many young people in the area. But that's not the only factor:
"Charlottesville has more small employers than large employers, and it's hard for small employers to offer health insurance. It's expensive," says Viccellio.
Some University of Virginia professors think the high number of people living in poverty in Charlottesville is the reason the numbers are so high even before the recession hit in 2008.
"If you are a childless adult and destitute, you will not get Medicaid," says Carolyn Engelhard, a Health Policy Analyst at the University of Virginia. "So there are a lot of poor people in Charlottesville who do not qualify for public health coverage."
University of Virginia students are typically well-insured. They're required to have health insurance during their first year of school in order to take classes. After that they can drop coverage, according to Dr. James Turner with Student Health at UVa. Dr. Turner estimates UVa students are the most insured group in Charlottesville.
Burgess is young and healthy , but she knows she'll need health care soon.
"[Like} hospital bills and anything else I need. Like glasses, which I have, but I need to get an appointment for some," she says.
Other college towns like Harrisonburg and Montgomery County have even higher rates of uninsured people. 28.5% were uninsured in Harrisonburg, the home of JMU, and in Montgomery County, the home of Virginia Tech, 27.7% of people are uninsured.
Those census numbers are from 2006, nearly three years before the recession. Experts estimate that this year the number of uninsured people will be much higher.