THE UNINSURED: California Leads Nation in Residents Without Insurance
Despite the fact that California health plans are more comprehensive and less costly than those in the rest of the country, California leads the nation with its percentage of uninsured residents, according to a report released Monday, the Contra Costa Times reports. The report, written by researchers at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Health and Public Policy Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, examined how California ranked in more than 12 health care indicators. On average, California exhibited a "tight-fisted approach to health care." For example, Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, spent $2,400 per recipient on average, compared to a national figure of $3,600. Additionally, the state spent a smaller percentage of its health care dollars on hospitals and nursing homes than the national average. Larry Levitt of KFF said that the spending "could, in some cases, translate to less access," adding that the "less providers get paid, the harder it's going to be to find providers who are willing to give that care."
Number One Problem
The growing number of uninsured residents continues to be one of the state's biggest problems, with 25% of Californians lacking insurance and 21% of California's children without coverage. Nationally, 18% of the population and 16% of children do not have health coverage. These numbers persist despite the fact that health premiums in the state "tend to be lower ... because [California] employers have been more aggressive in pushing HMOs to keep costs down." California families pay on average $405 a month for coverage offered through an employer, compared to $445 nationally. At the same time, however, California employers are less likely to offer insurance to their employees, with 48% offering coverage, compared to 61% nationally. Another contributing factor is the high rate at which former welfare recipients move off Medi-Cal and end up in low-paying jobs that do not offer health care. Many of those workers are unaware that Medi-Cal offers two years of transitional coverage (McMillan, 6/20). Pointing to the state's "unique mix" of demographic groups and its high immigrant population, Levitt said, "These differences present special challenges for the state in designing and operating a health care system that is accessible, affordable and meets the needs of all Californians" (Lindlaw, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/19).
Could Be Worse?
Californians' overall health is similar to that of people across the country, but California Latinos are more likely than Latinos in other states to report being in fair to poor health. Helen Schauffler, director of Berkeley's Center for Health and Public Policy Studies, said, "Despite some improvement, our health care system needs to do much more to help ensure the health of our population -- both here in California and across the country" (KFF release, 6/19). Trying to put a positive spin on the findings, California Association of Health Plans President Walter Zelman said, "If our insurance costs were higher, the uninsurance problem would be even worse" (Abate, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/20). To view the report, visit http://www.kff.org/content/2000/3016/.