HEALTH INSURANCE: Study Finds Major Access Problems
"Californians lag behind the rest of the nation in having health insurance, and nearly half of those who are covered have trouble getting good medical care," according to a report released today by the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health and the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research. The study found that 22% of California residents under age 65 were uninsured in 1996, compared with 18% nationally. In addition, it found that 84% of those without insurance work or have family members who work. The single biggest barrier to health insurance was cost, the study found, with many low- and middle-income workers being unable to afford the monthly premium contribution, AP/San Jose Mercury News reports. Researchers compiled data for the 103-page report from seven state, federal and private surveys (1/22).
More Key Findings
Among Californians with insurance, 42% reported problems with their health plans such as lack of important benefit coverage, difficulty or delay in obtaining referrals or the "most appropriate medical care" and disputes over billing and claims, the Contra Costa Times reports. The report "concludes with dozens of recommendations, from creating a new 'watchdog' agency to oversee quality ... to making it easier for low-income residents and small employers to get health insurance" (Appleby, 1/22).
Around The State
The Orange County Register reports that "Orange County residents, living in some of the state's wealthiest cities, were better insured than those in Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside and San Bernardino counties." Overall, 68% of Orange County residents have health insurance, compared to about 59% three years ago.
Safety Net Failure?
E. Richard Brown, director of health policy research at UCLA and a co-author of the study, said, "We've seen some slight improvements in terms of people getting health insurance because of the better economy. But employers aren't giving more benefits and may be shifting more of the cost to employees. In a good economy we expected that to change and it hasn't happened" (Kowalczyk, 1/22). According to Helen Halpin Schauffler, associate professor of health policy at UC-Berkeley and one of the study's primary authors, "The safety net, frankly, that's supposed to provide access to care for [workers] is barely surviving in the state. We either need to find a way to provide health insurance to this population or we need to reinvest in the safety net that's supposed to serve them" (Mercury News, 1/22). The study comes "two weeks after a commission appointed by the governor made its own recommendations for revamping health insurance in California." Policy watchers believe that "[t]ogether, the reports are likely to spur Sacramento lawmakers to introduce an avalanche of health care legislation this year" (Contra Costa Times, 1/22).