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NC uninsured rate growing fastest in nation

North Carolina health researchers today released new estimates that show a direct link between rising unemployment rates and the number of people without health insurance. They now estimate more than 20 percent of people in North Carolina are uninsured.

The economy has changed dramatically since the last time national uninsured rates were calculated in 2007. So, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine has recalculated the figures based on current unemployment rates and found North Carolina residents are losing their health insurance faster than any other state.

The uninsured rate in North Carolina rose 22 percent since 2007, compared to a 13.7 percent increase nationwide. Institute of Medicine Researcher Mark Holmes says that's partly because North Carolina's unemployment rate has increased so quickly.

But that's not all. "One big factor is the eligibility for Medicaid for unemployed parents," says Holmes. "If I live in a state with a high threshold and I become unemployed, depending on how much my spouse makes and the rest of my family, I may qualify for Medicaid. In North Carolina, I probably won't if my spouse is working."

Holmes says many states, including Massachusetts and Minnesota, have more generous Medicaid eligibility requirements for unemployed parents. On the other hand, he says North Carolina's health coverage for low-income children is better than many states. Which means that majority of the estimated 1.8 million North Carolina residents without health insurance are adults.