Number of Uninsured Declines, but Outlook is Pessimistic, Study Says
The number of uninsured Californians decreased to 6.8 million in 1999, down from 7.3 million a year earlier, and this number could be "substantially reduced" by expanding Healthy Families eligibility to parents at 250% of the federal poverty level, according to a new study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. The center released a policy brief drawn from a full report, titled "The State of Health Insurance in California: Recent Trends, Future Prospects," which will be released later this month. Some of the main findings from the brief include:
- The percentage of nonelderly Californians with employer-sponsored coverage rose from 58.3% in 1998 to 60.6% in 1999, an increase "largely responsible" for the overall decline in the number of uninsured.
- Still, 22.4% of the state's nonelderly residents remain uninsured, a rate comparable to 1996, when the state "had not yet fully recovered from the recession of the early 1990s."
- In a "slower decline than in past few years," 10.5% of nonelderly Californians were covered by Medi-Cal or Healthy Families in 1999, compared to 11% in 1998.
- Roughly 1.85 million children were uninsured in 1999, compared to more than two million in 1998. Of this population, 39% were eligible for Medi-Cal, and 29% were eligible for Healthy Families.
- Of the roughly five million uninsured nonelderly adults, 685,000, or 14%, are eligible for Medi-Cal. Of this subset, about 70% are "workers or in families headed by a worker."
Despite the drop in the overall number of uninsured, E. Richard Brown, the study's lead author, cautioned that the study was based on data from 1999, when California was at the height of its economic boom. Brown said, "We're in a different situation [today] with a contracting or at best a flat economy, and with rising health insurance premiums. We do not expect to see this improvement continue," (Wolfson, Orange County Register, 3/1). Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefits Research Institute added that the surge in employer-based coverage could be short-lived given the slowing economy. Fronstin said, "Small businesses just recently offering insurance may be the first out. They're going to have to weigh the cost in lost productivity and increased turnover against the savings of not offering benefits" (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 3/1). Forty-eight percent of California businesses currently offer insurance, compared to the national average of 61%. This fact helps to explain why working families constitute a majority of the state's uninsured, according to Larry Levitt, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Levitt said, "The number one issue is affordability. These [insurance] costs are still out of reach for low-income workers and many small businesses" (Wolfson, Orange County Register, 3/1). To view the full policy brief, go to http://www.healthpolicy.ucla.edu/publications/HealthInsuranceCoverageofCaliforniansImprovedin1999.pdf. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.