Nearly One-Quarter of Nonelderly Californians Lack Insurance

Nearly two million Californians lost health coverage in 2008 and 2009 as California’s employment rate dipped to its lowest level in more than three decades and workers faced the toughest job market in the post-World War II era, according to a report released today by the University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Health Policy Research. The new estimates show that 8.2 million individuals – nearly one in four of all nonelderly Californians – were uninsured for all or part of 2009, a significant jump since the last time the survey was conducted in 2007, just before the national recession took hold.

As the unemployment rate doubled, the share of adults with job-based health coverage all year declined sharply from 57.3 percent in 2007 to 51.3 percent in 2009, the report shows. Moreover, the share of children with coverage provided through their parents’ employer fell from 52.2 percent to 46.7 percent. Enrollment rose in the state’s public health programs – Medi-Cal and the Healthy Families Program (HFP) – to help fill the gap. In spite of higher participation in public programs, though, the number of uninsured children increased by 36.4 percent over the two-year period to 1.5 million children.

UCLA’s report is well-timed. Congress is completing its deliberations on national health reform, which would extend affordable coverage to more Americans. At the same time, the Legislature has begun deliberations on how California can bridge an $18.9 billion budget deficit and will consider Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposals to significantly reduce public health coverage programs, which are now helping to ensure that some of the newly uninsured can obtain care. The Governor’s proposals could add as many as 1 million children to the ranks of the uninsured if the HFP were eliminated. Reductions to Medi-Cal could send the number of uninsured even higher.

The proposed reductions come as public programs are experiencing rapid increases in enrollment. Enrollment in Medi-Cal, which provides coverage to low-income families, seniors, and the disabled, rose by 7.2 percent between May 2007 and May 2009. The HFP, which covers children above the poverty line up to 250 percent of the poverty line – $45,780 for a family of three – had also increased rapidly until July 2009, when enrollment was suspended for two months due to lack of state funds.

California’s economic recovery is expected to be long and slow and the unemployment rate is likely to remain relatively high for the next five years. That means fewer people will have coverage through their jobs and the need for these programs will continue to be greater – not less.

— Hanh Kim Quach

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