Some 14.5 percent of Douglas County adults had no health insurance at all this year, including 34 percent of low-income residents.
The percent with neither private nor government health coverage has risen steadily over nine years. In 2002, only 9.5 percent of adults in Douglas County had no insurance.
Those findings and many others triggered discussion Wednesday at the fourth annual Live Well Omaha Health Summit, held at the Scott Conference Center. The summit attracted about 200 health leaders, medical workers and faculty members.
Close to 30 percent of Hispanic adults ages 18 to 64 in the metro area lack health insurance and close to 20 percent of black adults don't have it.
Dr. Ayman El-Mohandes, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health, called the disparity alarming. "I think we would be at fault leaving this room being reassured that we are a healthy community," El-Mohandes, who attended the conference, told the group.
If alarming statistics follow any group in the community, he said, it is that community's collective responsibility to improve the situation.
"That's a question of conscience," he said in an interview. "We all live on the same street. If one house on that street is hungry, then we should care."
A consulting firm, Professional Research Consultants, collected the data for Live Well Omaha, which is a coalition of people and groups that distributes health data and strives to raise awareness about important health matters.
The firm conducted random telephone interviews of 2,200 adults, then conducted 100 more telephone interviews each of black and Hispanic residents. Bruce Lockwood of the consulting firm said the oversampling of the two minority groups was done to more accurately assess their distinct health needs.
The firm also used other public health data and held focus groups with 88 physicians, community leaders and health leaders in Douglas, Sarpy and Cass Counties in Nebraska and Pottawattamie County in Iowa.
The research found that 14.5 percent of metro-area residents this year declined to seek medical care because of cost.
Other tidbits that emerged from the meeting are more encouraging. "I want to make sure that I point out there was a lot of good news in this," Lockwood said.
For instance, the death rate locally in heart disease, cancer and pneumonia, and the infant death rate, are lower than the national rate. Douglas County over time has shown improvements in heart disease and stroke deaths, death by respiratory disease, use of seat belts, fruit and vegetable consumption, and other factors.
Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said the data are frustrating in some ways.
"Every year we collect data, and we see we still have some of the same issues," Pour said.
Making profound inroads, she said, requires changes not just in health care, but in education and economics in the area. Community development programs and bank loans need to consider elements affecting health, she said, such as construction of neighborhood grocery stores and trails upon which people can exercise.
"There are," she said, "no big surprises in the data."
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