THE UNINSURED: State Should Step In to Stem the Tide
Seven million California residents -- one in four younger than 65 -- are currently uninsured and the number is growing by 50,000 each month, writes UCLA Center for Health Policy Research Director E. Richard Brown in today's Los Angeles Times. Brown argues that reforming the insurance market did not produce affordable coverage, so now the "only way to make health insurance affordable is to provide financial help." Further, if regulators are not going to require employers to assist workers in buying health insurance, then government should step in, noting that if the state would commit to insuring the poor, the federal government would subsidize up to two-thirds of the cost. These federal funds will only be available for another "couple of years," before any unused funds are reallocated to other states, Brown writes. Specifically, he advocates the following measures:
- Gov. Gray Davis "needs to fix and expand" California's health insurance programs for children. Now that the Healthy Families application has been streamlined, the state should "extend eligibility automatically to children who qualify for other means-tested programs, such as school lunch programs or food stamps." The administration should also extend eligibility to 300% of the poverty level and Washington should "reassure immigrant parents that they will not be classified as 'public charges'" if they enroll their children.
- Healthy Families and Medi-Cal should be extended to uninsured adults, beginning with parents of eligible children and progressing to others who could pay on a sliding scale.
- The state should remove health insurance programs from the purview of welfare offices, thus removing the stigma of applying for public assistance.
- Finally, "California should integrate its half-dozen fragmented health insurance programs into a seamless system," so that money now spent on bureaucracy could be spent on coverage (3/3).