South Phoenix saw big health coverage gain, still trails state, U.S.

WASHINGTON – A south Phoenix congressional district posted one of the nation’s largest decreases in people without health insurance since the start of the Affordable Care Act, according to a recently released analysis of Census Bureau data.

Arizona’s 7th District saw the fifth-steepest decline of all 435 congressional districts, with the percentage of uninsured residents falling from 31.9 percent in 2013 to 19.2 percent in 2015, according to the analysis of Census Bureau data by the website Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.

The gains come as the act, better known as Obamacare, continues to be a campaign target for Republicans, who say it has not lived up to its promises. It also comes at a time when insurance companies are pulling out of the Arizona marketplace, leaving all but one county in the state with only one insurance provider as the Nov. 1 open enrollment date for 2017 coverage looms.

But 7th District Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said in an e-mailed statement that the declining numbers in his district are “the latest proof that Obamacare is making important progress in our communities.”

Despite the improvements, the district still lagged far behind state and national health coverage rates. The percentage of uninsured in Arizona fell from 17.1 in 2013 to 10.8 in 2015, while the national numbers fell from 14.5 to 9.4 percent in the same period, according to the Census Bureau.

Every district in Arizona saw improvements. The 3rd District, which stretches from Yuma to Tucson, fell from 21.5 percent to 14.1 percent, a 7.4 percent drop. The East Valley 5th District had the smallest drop in the state, going from 11.2 to 7.4 percent.

“While Republicans continue to threaten to take away this important program, Democrats will keep fighting to protect the Affordable Care Act, to increase access to health care for all Americans, and to tackle skyrocketing prescription costs,” Gallego wrote in the e-mailed statement.

The fight over Obamacare was one point of contention in Monday night’s debate between Republican Sen. John McCain and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whose 1st District saw a 5.4 percent drop since 2013 in the number of people who lacked insurance.

Kirkpatrick chastised Republicans for voting scores of times to overturn Obamacare without anything better in place. She said a plan offered by McCain “would make healthcare more expensive for women because it would take away coverage for cancer screening and contraception.”

“Instead of continuing to repeal Obamacare over 60 times, we should’ve been working to fix it,” Kirkpatrck said.

But McCain said it’s too late to talk about working together to fix “a major entitlement reform (that) was rammed through the Congress of the United States without a single vote from the other side” for what he said was the first time in history.

McCain said he fought for weeks against Obamacare, noting that he wants to replace it, instead of reforming it.

“Here’s how we work together, we repeal and we replace it,” McCain said.

Coverage by congressional district

Roll over the map to see the percent of uninsured residents in 2015

Critics note that Arizonans have seen rising premiums and a lack of health insurance choices for participants under the Affordable Care Act, with only one healthcare provider under the exchange in 14 out of the state’s 15 counties.

“If you don’t like that plan or if you don’t like your deductible – you’re out of luck,” said Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner, whose nonprofit institute is dedicated to health policy. “And if you don’t buy it you’re going to be fined. So people are really trapped.”

Galen cautioned that improvements in the percentage of people with health insurance “does not always equate with care.”

But Ron Pollack, executive director of a national organization for healthcare consumers, Families USA, reminded critics that the dropping rate of uninsured people means one thing: the Affordable Care Act is working.

Pollack said the legislation isn’t flawless, noting that people still have to pay out of pocket costs for coverage, but “there’s no doubt that as coverage increases so does care.”

“It is clear that when people get coverage it has a very significant impact on their access to care,” he said.