THE UNINSURED: Bee Looks At Issue in California
A four-part series in the Sacramento Bee this week examines the challenges facing California's uninsured residents. Sunday's story detailed the difficulties the state's poor have in obtaining health care. Twenty percent of Californians lack health insurance; only five other states have a higher percentage of uninsured than California. Although the tight labor market has forced more employers to offer insurance, "[o]nly 58% of non-elderly Californians have job-based insurance, compared with 69% for the rest of the country." California spends more than $25 billion each year in federal, state and local funds for health care, but the result is "an often-conflicting and bewildering array of health care programs." Emergency rooms are increasingly caring for the uninsured, who often delay primary care. To help pay for some medical service, two programs, Sacramento County's Medically Indigent Service Program and the state Child Health and Disability Prevention Program, are available. However, patients often are unaware of their existence. In addition, working parents using these programs "have difficulty ... because of long waits and limited locations" (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 10/15).
Children's Coverage Lagging
Monday's story looks at uninsured children in California. According to the Bee, the vast numbers of uninsured children who are eligible for health insurance but are not enrolled in state programs are "costing everyone -- hospitals, doctors and taxpayers -- more when routine problems become expensive emergencies." However, the Bee reports that the problem is not untenable, pointing to children's advocates who indicate that providing every child with "easy-to-navigate health insurance coverage is within reach" if only politicians would "make it happen." According to a 1998 UCLA study, 1.5 million of the state's estimated 2 million uninsured children are eligible for either Medi-Cal or Healthy Families. But many Medi-Cal enrollees left the program after federal welfare reform was passed in 1996 because "they thought they no longer qualified, doubted they needed the coverage or were not told they were still eligible." While Healthy Families "has enjoyed a vigorous enrollment," nearly half of the 639,000 eligible children are not enrolled, partly because of "inadequate outreach efforts." Helen Schauffler, a health policy expert at the University of California-Berkeley, said, "The state has made a sincere effort, but they haven't gone far enough. They need to go to where the kids are instead of waiting for the kids to come to them" (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 10/16).