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More Californians could be eligible for health insurance under reform, study finds

POSTED February 18, 2011 8:21 p.m.

An estimated 4.7 million uninsured Californians will become eligible for insurance coverage when health care reform expansion laws take effect in 2014, according to a new report from the UCLA Center for Health
Policy Research.

California has the largest number of uninsured people in the nation, with the current count at 7 million. The report from the UCLA center found that two-thirds of the state’s uninsured population will find themselves eligible for new coverage options in 2014, either through federal subsidies or Medi-Cal expansion.

The report draws on data from the 2009 California Health Interview Survey, which was released Wednesday. The random–digit-dial telephone survey, conducted every two years by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, gathers essential information from tens of thousands of California households on a wide variety of topics, from health insurance and public program participation to diabetes, obesity and cancer screening.  The health care coverage report was co-funded by the California Wellness Foundation and The California Endowment.

"This expansion will have a huge impact on the number of people without insurance," said Shana Alex Lavarreda, lead author of the brief. "It will provide relief in the short term to millions of Californians who currently have no insurance options. And it will provide long-term relief to all residents by shifting the taxpayer emphasis from high-cost emergency room services to lower-cost preventative care." 

The report presents county-by-county estimates of the number of Californians who had job-based, public or private insurance in 2009, as well as those who were uninsured for all or part of that year.

Within the San Joaquin Valley, Stanislaus County claims the highest rate of employment-based health care coverage for the population under 65 years of age at 56 percent for all of 2009. Following Stanislaus was Merced County at 47.5 percent and San Joaquin County at 45.1 percent.

The percentage of Stanislaus County’s population covered by Medi-Cal or Healthy Families stands at 17.6 percent. The percentage of people who had some other type of coverage for the whole year was at 7.7 percent, while 18.7 percent were uninsured for all or part of 2009.

Based on the CHIS 2009 data, center researchers estimate in the report that 3 million uninsured Californians will gain coverage through health reform's Medi-Cal expansion and 1.7 million will be eligible for subsidies through the state's health insurance exchange. Additionally, 1.2 million will become eligible to purchase non-subsidized coverage through the exchange. The remaining 1 million non-citizen Californians who lack health insurance are not eligible for benefits under health reform, largely due to citizenship or residency status. 

The report states that reform may help those struggling in the economic downturn by expanding the definition of those who are eligible for Medi-Cal to include adults without dependent children who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which was at $10,956 for one person in 2009.

"Health care reform lifts a tremendous burden off the shoulders of all Californians," said E. Richard Brown, the center's director. "And it will be an enormous relief to anyone who's struggling to pay both the rent and a medical bill."

The report does not take into consideration the state’s staggering budget deficit and possible restructuring and cuts to Medi-Cal.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.
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