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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. July 8, 2012

R.I. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts says two thirds to three quarters of Rhode Islanders without health insurance are employed

For better or worse, health-care changes are on the way.

During the June 29, 2012, edition of Rhode Island Public Television's "A Lively Experiment" program, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, who is helping to implement the federal program in Rhode Island, said most of the uninsured Rhode Islanders who will benefit are working people.

"Two thirds to three quarters of people without insurance in Rhode Island work, but don't have access to affordable health insurance," she said, pegging the number of uninsured Rhode Islanders at about 120,000.

We wondered whether most of the people who don't have insurance are, in fact, getting a regular paycheck.

We called Roberts' office and asked for the source of her information.

Spokeswoman Maria Tocco quickly sent us to a reliable source:, a website of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which compiles data on health coverage gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The survey asks questions every year about who has health insurance and whether they are working. The most recent state data are from 2010.

When the elderly were excluded (they are covered by Medicare), the Census Bureau found that 119,100 Rhode Islanders were without health insurance, essentially the 120,000 number cited by Roberts.

The Census Bureau also found that 77 percent of the uninsured are from families in which at least one person has a part-time or full-time job. The remaining 23 percent are from families where nobody is working.

Because that 77 percent includes children and adults who aren’t working at all, the actual percentage of workers who are uninsured is less than 77 percent -- probably significantly less.

As Rhode Island Health Insurance Commissioner Christopher Koller noted, insurance is often sold by family unit, which is why the numbers are framed that way.

Koller sent us to another source, a 2010 "Study of Rhode Island's Uninsured" done by the consulting firm Mathematica Policy Research.

It estimated that in 2010 there were 103,400 uninsured Rhode Islanders age 20 to 64. That included 49,600 people (or 48 percent) who were employed, significantly less than Roberts' estimate.

The remaining people make up two groups, 22,000 (21 percent) traditionally classified as unemployed and 31,800 "not employed" (31 percent). Project director Deborah Chollet said the "not employed" group consists of people who are not looking for work, such as early retirees, people who regard themselves as too disabled to do their job, or parents staying home to care for a child while the other parent works.

Koller said the best numbers are probably from the census because they use data that are more recent and they're not extrapolated, as the Mathematica numbers are.

"The point that we're trying to make is that the uninsured are people who are working. They're in working situations," said Koller, the health insurance commissioner. "It's not that they're layabouts or something like that. They're working and they don't have access to it, or they have access to it and they can't afford it."

Our ruling

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts said, "Two thirds to three quarters of people without [health] insurance in Rhode Island work."

Unfortunately, none of the data precisely match up with the way she cast her statement.

The Kaiser numbers Roberts cited to support her claim represent families, not individuals.

The Mathematica study showed far fewer working people without insurance, but it's based on a projection using older data.

In cases where the facts don't precisely match up with the statement, PolitiFact tries to use the data that are available and triangulate to get the truth.

Roberts' larger point, that a lot of Rhode Islanders without health insurance are working people, is true.

But she gave a range of two thirds to three quarters -- 67 percent to 75 percent. The Rhode Island studies we consulted suggest the true number is higher than 48 percent but lower than 77 percent.

We rate her statement as Half True.

(Get updates from PolitiFactRI on Twitter. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources, "A Lively Experiment 06 29 2012 WSBE DT HD RI PBS 1," June 29, 2012, accessed July 2, 2012, "Methodology, Sourcing, and Contact Information," undated, accessed July 5, 2012

Interviews and e-mails, Maria Tocco, spokeswoman, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, July 5, 2012, "Rhode Island: Distribution of the Nonelderly Uninsured by Age, states (2009-2010), U.S. (2010)," undated, accessed July 5, 2012, "The Uninsured: A Primer," The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Supplemental Data Tables, October 2011, accessed July 6, 2012

Interviews, Christopher Koller, Rhode Island health insurance commissioner, July 3 and 5, 2012, "Study of Rhode Island's Uninsured: Current Costs and Future Opportunities," Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner, March 11, 2010, accessed July 5, 2012

Interviews, Deborah J. Chollet, senior fellow, Mathematica Policy Research, July 5, 2012

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