THE UNINSURED I: California Exceeds National Rate, Study Says
The number of Californians without health insurance now surpasses the national average, according to a new, joint research project by UC-Berkeley and UCLA, the Los Angeles Times reports. State residents without coverage continues to grow by 23,000 a month -- the statewide total surged to 7.3 million for 1998. "California's insurance problems are bad and getting worse," said the study's lead researcher, Helen Schauffler, director of UC-Berkeley's Center for Health and Public Policy Studies. The rise in California's number of uninsured is driven mainly by a decline in coverage through Medi-Cal due to welfare reform and changed eligibility requirements. The lack of coverage is "particularly pronounced" among young adults, Latinos, older women and children, the report found. More than two million children in California were without insurance in 1998 -- an increase of 150,000, or 7.5% since 1997 -- despite the implementation of the Healthy Families program. Larry Levitt, a director at the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded, "It's definitely a case of haves and have-nots right now in California."
What To Do?
Many blame growth of the uninsured on employer-based coverage, which has "remained flat" and failed to "compensate for the Medi- Cal dip" (Marquis, 1/20). Jeanne Cain, vice president of government relations for the California Chamber of Commerce, explained that the state's small businesses cannot always afford to provide coverage. "The vast number of our employers have less than 15 employees. Because of that, they have a different kind of profit margin than those in other states" (Nissenbaum, San Jose Mercury News, 1/20). State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) stated that the new study underscores the need for a solution, saying, "These numbers are staggering and unacceptable. We need to enact new policies and expand on existing ones." But Levitt, whose organization released a study on California's uninsured this week, said, "It would be irresponsible to turn our backs on the employer-based system, but all these findings suggest that we cannot expect the employer-based system to grow." The UC report, however, offered the following recommendations to narrow the insurance gap:
- Improve, expand and streamline public coverage through the Medi-Cal and Healthy Families programs;
- Expand the high-risk insurance pool;
- Expand coverage for the self-employed; and
- Provide subsidies to the poor so they may purchase private insurance