UCLA: nearly 2 million Californians lost coverage during recession

March 16, 2010

Nearly two million Californians have lost their health insurance during the recession, according to new research from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, bringing to more than 8 million the number of Californians who were without coverage for all or part of 2009. That’s about one-quarter of the state’s nonelderly population.

Layoffs and unemployment meant the end of health coverage for many. In 2007, 57.3 percent of adults under age 65 had coverage through work. By 2009 that number had dropped to 51.3 percent. There was a slight increase in the number of people in the Medi-Cal program. But the proportion uninsured for at least part of the year grew from 23.9 percent to 29.5 percent, according to the estimates.

For children, the percentage uninsured grew from 10.2 percent to 13.4 percent.

More children have coverage through public programs, especially the Healthy Families program, which serves the working poor with subsidized, reduced-cost coverage. But the state froze enrollment in that program last summer for the first time, just as demand was soaring. Now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to eliminate the program altogether to help close the state’s budget gap, while reducing eligibility for the Medi-Cal program to federal minimums.

“These estimates help us understand the scale of the damage inflicted on California over the last two years,” Shana Alex Lavarreda, the center’s director of health insurance studies, said in a statement released with the report.

Wendy Lazarus, founder and co-president of the Children’s Partnership, described the study as a “wake-up call” for policymakers.

“This number reflects nearly 400,000 newly uninsured children as a result of the recession,” she said. “As the financial downturn has continued, more families have lost employer-based health coverage, and, correspondingly, the number of children needing state-sponsored health coverage has increased dramatically. During 2009, the average monthly enrollment in the state’s Healthy Families Program was more than 29,000 kids, the largest average enrollment growth since the program’s inception. There can no longer be any doubt that California’s families are struggling to make ends meet, and finding access to health coverage for their children is becoming a greater challenge.”

To see the full report, go here.

Note: this research was funded by a grant from the California Endowment, which also funds this website.

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