Health Coverage Widespread

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Pittsburghers are covered when it comes to having health insurance.

About 96 percent of adults in the Pittsburgh region reported having some type of health insurance in 2016, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The rate of health care coverage in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area is the highest among Pittsburgh Today’s 16 benchmark regions. Pittsburgh’s rate is above the benchmark average of 90.9 percent. Austin had the lowest rate among the benchmark regions where only 82 percent of adults had health care coverage.

Health care coverage has long been a strong suit for the region. The region’s rate of coverage has consistently been among the highest in rankings of the benchmark regions. In the Pittsburgh region, coverage has been steadily climbing from 85.9 percent of all adults covered in 2012 to 95.6 percent in 2016, the most recent data available.

“This is great,” said Bernard Goldstein, professor emeritus, Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s really hard to have more than 95 percent of a population covered.”

There are a number of factors that could contribute to Pittsburgh’s high rate of health care coverage, including expanded coverage offered by the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania and fierce competition among health insurers. In the Pittsburgh region, two major insurers – Highmark and UPMC Health Plan – provide most health insurance. In other regions, however, there may only be one insurer.

“My bias is that a major reason is that the competition between Highmark and UPMC drives them to be aggressive on signing people up,” said Goldstein.

While health care coverage is an important indicator of access to care, it doesn’t guarantee good health, quality care or healthy behaviors. The Pittsburgh region, for example, has high rates of obesity and diabetes.

“Health care doesn’t necessarily correlate to health improvement,” said Noble Maseru, professor, Behavioral and Community Health Sciences and director of Center for Health Equity at the University of Pittsburgh. “We should be talking about wellness coverage that is more therapeutic, preventative and downstream. What is the efficacy of that coverage?”