Census: Nearly 1 in 5 Californians lack health insurance
New U.S. Census figures paint a grim picture of California when it comes to health insurance: Nearly one in five residents lacked coverage on average during the last three years, one of the highest rates in the nation.
On average from 2008 to 2010, 18.9% of Californians had no insurance, the census reported. That equates to nearly 7 million people.
Nationally, 15.8% of Americans -– or nearly 48 million people -– went without health insurance on average during the three-year period, the census reported.
California was among the top seven states with the highest average rates.
It fell behind Texas (24.8%), New Mexico (21.8%), Florida (20.7%), Nevada (20.0%), Arizona (19.1%) and Georgia (19.0%).
The census also showed that the absence of insurance is a growing problem in California and nationally, largely the result of employers laying off workers and cutting health benefits during the recession.
In California, 19.4% of people on average had no insurance in 2009-2010. That was up from 17.8% in 2007-2008.
Nationally, the figures were 16.2% in 2009-10 and 14.8% in 2007-08.
“The depth of the problem has gotten worse,” said Shana Alex Lavarreda, director of health insurance studies at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “The private sector is not able to cover this population.”
Lavarreda and other healthcare analysts said the figures underscore the need for healthcare reform. They point out that the federal healthcare overhaul will require millions of Americans to buy insurance, starting in 2014, and will provide subsidies for those who can’t afford it.
An estimated 4.7 million uninsured Californians will be eligible for insurance when the new requirement takes effect, the UCLA center estimated. Many will get subsidies or receive coverage through Medi-Cal, the joint state-federal insurance program for the poor.
“That’s when we’ll see the numbers of uninsured drop,” Lavarreda said.
-- Duke Helfand
Photo: A patient is examined by his doctor in California.
Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times