New information from the United States Census Bureau revealed several counties in the high country, including Ashe, have high rates of uninsured citizens.
According to the 2010 United States Census, 23 percent of Ashe County’s citizens under 65 (the age eligible for Medicare) were uninsured that year. This is nearly four percentage points higher than North Carolina’s average of 19.1 percent in 2010.
That number was down from a 2006 estimate, which showed an uninsured rate of 25.2 percent.
Ashe County’s uninsured rate seems to have improved even more since 2010, based on countyhealthrankings.com, which says Ashe currently has an uninsured rate of 19-23 percent. Even though this percentage is still above the state average, countyhealthrankings.com rates Ashe County as number 37 out of 100 North Carolina counties in overall health.
“Of course, all of the patients we see are uninsured,” said Greg Bolac, director of Ashe County Free Medical Clinic.
Bolac said the major problem facing Ashe County isn’t the high uninsured rate; it is the number of doctors employed in the county. “Ashe County is way down in the ranks in percentage of doctors; we need to hire more doctors,” said Bolac.
Bolac said Ashe County has 886 patients for every one doctor. To put that into perspective, Bolac said Watauga County has 658 patients for every one doctor.
Also according to Bolac, Ashe County and its neighbors have high uninsured rates because they are “rural areas with high unemployment.”
In the 2010 census, Alleghany County had the highest uninsured rate in North Carolina at 30.1 percent. This rate had increased from 2006, when Alleghany County had a 22.7 percent uninsured rate.
Also in the census, Watauga County and Wilkes County had uninsured rates of 20.1 percent and 21.7 percent respectively.
While Alleghany’s rate has increased significantly since 2006, Watauga’s uninsured rate has dropped from 28.8 percent in 2006. Even though one out of five people in Watauga are uninsured, Watauga ranks number six out of 100 counties in North Carolina in terms of overall health.
The county with the lowest uninsured rate in 2010 was Wake County at 15.5 percent, which earns it the highest overall health ranking in the state, according to countyhealthrankings.com.