A study released earlier this week by the University of California Los Angeles showed that almost 25% of Californians under the age of 65 lacked health insurance during all or in part of 2009. That is a 28 percent increase as compared to the 6.4 million uninsured in 2007. With California’s unemployment at 12.5 percent, an increase in the number of the uninsured was expected. But it has been reported that even these numbers took the researchers by surprise. (Note: all Americans, including all Californians, 65 and older get their health insurance coverage through Medicare, the government-run, single-payer health insurance program and were not included as part of the study.)
The research also showed that of the newly uninsured, 400,000 are children, bringing the total number of children uninsured to 1.5 million. Some regions were more affected than others due to large job losses in Los Angles and parts of the Central Valley. Researchers noted that without the stimulus money that subsidized COBRA payments to help the unemployed keep their employer-based health insurance, the numbers would have been substantially worse.
Not only are people losing their health insurance because of job losses, but fewer employers are offering health insurance to their employees according to data just released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Between 2000 and 2008, employer-sponsored health plans declined 6.3 percent.
Of course the major increase in the uninsured is taking its toll elsewhere. Community clinics and hospitals have seen their patient load explode, often with much sicker people who failed to seek medical care because of the lack of insurance. This is costing already cash-strapped hospitals millions of dollars. According to the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, the number of uninsured patients nationally increased 23 percent between 2008 and 2009, causing a 10 percent increase in uncompensated care.
As these numbers show, our health care system is on an unsustainable path that leaves millions of people without the medical care they need to live a healthy life. And while the health insurance debate in Washington during the past year has been unbearable to watch, it may, in fact, be the first step in providing a remedy for the uninsured.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill coming out of the House of Representatives (H.R. 4872) will cover an additional 32 million people, bringing the rate of insured Americans to 95 percent. The CBO also found that H.R. 4872 reduces the federal deficit by $139 billion over the next ten years and over a trillion dollars over the next two decades.
If the bill passes and is signed into law by President Obama, how quickly it helps our state’s 8.2 million uninsured remains to be seen. Obviously, that help can’t get here fast enough.