Maricopa County ranks high in number of uninsured

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Phoenix and the surrounding communities that make up Maricopa County have one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the country, according to a study conducted for The Associated Press.

The study shows that half of uninsured people live in 116 of the nation's 3,143 counties. Maricopa County -- Arizona's most populous -- comes in at No. 6 on the list representing 1 percent of the nation's uninsured. Within Maricopa County, 20 percent, or more than 656,000 people, are uninsured.

The figures from 2011 reflect people who are 64 or younger and include people living in the U.S. illegally. The study was conducted by the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota.

Health experts have said Arizona should expect to see nearly 800,000 newly insured people in the coming years because of an expansion of its Medicaid program recently pushed through the Legislature and an influx from the Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment for subsidized private insurance ends March 31 for people who don't have health care through their jobs.

Meanwhile, community health advocates are fanning out across Arizona to educate residents on insurance options. An estimated 1.2 million of Arizona's 6.7 million residents are uninsured.

Among Arizona's 15 counties, La Paz and Santa Cruz have the highest rate of nonelderly uninsured at 26 percent, according to the study, followed by Yuma and Coconino. Greenlee has the lowest rate of uninsured at 14 percent, the study shows.

The Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers and its members have been visiting food banks, school-based clinics, head start facilities and other organizations that provide services to low-income people to reach out to the uninsured and help them understand what is available.

"We're not sitting waiting for people to just come to us," said Allen Gjersvig, the alliance's director of health care innovation. "We're trying to engage people wherever you might find them."

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