NASHVILLE -- The percentage of uninsured Tennesseans fell this year to its lowest level since 2005, according to a new University of Tennessee report.
An estimated 9.2 percent of the population or 577,813 people don't have insurance, UT's Center for Business and Economic Research says. That compares to last year's 9.5 percent rate. It was the lowest number of people since 2008.
The number of uninsured adults, meanwhile, decreased from 12 percent in 2011 to 11.2 percent or 537,113 this year. The number of uninsured children inched up slightly from 2.4 to 2.7 percent. An estimated 40,700 under age 18 had no private or government-sponsored insurance.
The report is based on a survey of the heads of some 5,000 households. UT began the annual survey on TennCare and the uninsured in 1993, the year before TennCare took effect. TennCare, the state's expanded version of Medicaid, funds medical assistance for low-income children, pregnant women and disabled adults.
TennCare enrollees continue to give good marks to the program with 93 percent of those surveyed saying they were "somewhat satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their care.
Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, said researchers don't know for sure why the number and percentage of uninsured Tennesseans fell over the past year.
"We don't pose the question," he said. "People who aren't insured tell us it's because they can't afford it."
Fox said there are probably a "lot of factors" in the decrease. Possible explanations include the end of the recession and a provision in the federal Affordable Care Act that allows parents to keep their children on their private insurance up to age 26.
Figures from past surveys show the rolls of the uninsured jumped significantly after then-Gov. Phil Bredesen cut the number of people of TennCare in 2005 and 2006. They then fell to 566,633 in 2008 before heading back up as the recession struck.
Fox said he doesn't read very much into the slight increase in uninsured children, noting, "it's still the second lowest in the history of the data."
Eighty-eight percent of the uninsured respondents said the major reason for not having health coverage was they couldn't afford it.
Another 9 percent said they didn't get around to obtaining insurance and another 7 percent cited the major reason for having no insurance is because they don't need it.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.