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Fewer Californians covered by employer insurance

POSTED October 26, 2012 7:44 p.m.

The number of Californians covered by employer-based health insurance fell below the halfway mark as a result of the recession, according to a new study from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The study found that for the first time in a decade, the percentage of Californians who had health insurance through their own or a family member's employment fell below 50 percent in 2011.

At the same time, the percentage of non-elderly adults and children enrolled in Medi-Cal and the state's Healthy Families program increased, with one in five insured through these public health insurance programs for low-income Californians in 2011.

"We're seeing the toll of two years of high unemployment with the loss of job-based insurance for more than 1 million Californians," said Shana Alex Lavarreda, the study's lead author and director of the center's Health Insurance Studies Program. "With the state still reeling from a 10.2 percent unemployment rate, public health insurance enrollment has expanded to meet the increased need." 

When data for the first California Health Interview Survey was collected in 2001, 56 percent of non-elderly Californians had employment-based coverage. By 2011, that figure had declined by more than 6 percentage points, to 49.7 percent. 

From the 2011 California Health Interview Survey, researchers found 16.1 million of nonelderly Californians were insured through their own or family member’s job-based coverage. Nearly seven million children and adults were uninsured for all or part of the prior year. Almost four million of those had no insurance at all for the entire year or longer, according to the survey results.

The Medi-Cal and Healthy Families programs covered one in five nonelderly Californians in 2011. Eligibility for the public programs grew from 15 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2011. The survey found 6.2 million nonelderly Californians were enrolled in Medi-Cal or Health Families in 2011.

The percentage of people opting to purchase their own private insurance in 2011 was at 5.6 percent. An estimated 1.4 million were insured through some other government program, according to the study.

"It's clear that the job-based model just doesn't work for everyone in an age of high unemployment and rapidly changing job markets," Lavarreda said. "When the major insurance expansions occur in 2014, the ACA (Affordable Care Act) should finally provide relief to the millions of Californians who for years have struggled to survive without health insurance." 

The study used new one-year estimates from the 2011 California Health Interview Survey.

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