By any measure, the health-care debate in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area has been as vigorous and contentious as any other part of the country. And this despite a surprising fact contained in new U.S. Census Bureau data: This area is among the best-insured regions of the country.
Apparently Pittsburghers don't have the notion that we have ours and we don't care about this debate. When it comes to health insurance, we have ours in a greater share than any other of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the nation with the exception of Boston, according to the bureau's 2008 American Community Survey. Nearly 92 percent of people of all ages have public or private insurance here.
As the Post-Gazette's Gary Rotstein reported Tuesday, the reasons for this state of affairs are several. With more older people over 65 than other parts of the country -- 17.1 percent of the population here, compared with the national average of 12.8 percent for the nation -- the Pittsburgh area has numerous residents covered by Medicare.
Analysts also cite the Pittsburgh region's comparative resilience during the recession as another reason many people still have health insurance here. In low- to moderate-income households, Pennsylvania's CHIP program covers more children here than elsewhere -- only 3.9 percent of children under age 18 are uninsured here compared with the national rate of 9.9 percent.
But the precarious nature of health insurance in this country is one factor driving the need for reform -- and there's plenty of evidence that the reform drive itself has made seniors nervous. In other words, no one can afford to have the self-satisfied attitude that health-care reform is somebody else's business.
Even the CHIP program might be affected. Sen. Bob Casey yesterday joined half a dozen other senators in sending a letter to the Senate Finance Committee to preserve the program, which they say the current version of the committee's health-care bill would dismantle despite its success.
Pittsburgh may be well insured, but it has every reason to stay tuned into this debate.