March 9, 2001

California's Ethnic and Racial Communities Still Lack Health Insurance Coverage

36% of Latinos Lack Health Insurance Coverage

Despite gains in the number of Californians with health insurance in 1999, large ethnic and racial disparities in health insurance coverage remain among people of color compared to non Latino whites according to a new study released today by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The State of Health Insurance in California: Recent Trends, Future Prospects finds that while a booming economy helped trim the number of Californians without health insurance in 1999, 22.4% of the state's non elderly residents still lacked health coverage. Those numbers remain even higher for the state's ethnic and racial minority communities. There has been little or no increase in overall health insurance coverage for California's minorities since 1994.

Uninsured rates are particularly high among Latinos (36%) compared to non Latino whites (13%). Latino children also have the highest uninsured rate among children (28%). Other racial and ethnic groups also have high rates of uninsured. 22% of African Americans and 23% of Asian American and Pacific Islanders lacked health insurance in 1999. Within the Asian American and Pacific Islander population, uninsured rates were higher among Koreans (45%), Vietnamese (29%), and Chinese (28%).

The disparities in coverage are reflected in the lower rates of job-based insurance among racial and ethnic minorities. 43% of Latinos had job-based insurance in 1999 as compared to 92% of the non-Latino white population. While job-based insurance for Latinos has risen from 39% in 1994, health insurance coverage provided through Medi-Cal or Healthy Families Program declined from 22% to 17%. As a result, the number of Latinos with health insurance coverage remains unchanged at 36% since 1994. 63% of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and 59% of African Americans had job based insurance in 1999.

"Though there is notable improvement in California's employment-based coverage, this study makes it clear that people of color, the working poor, and those unable to work continue to be at highest risk of being uninsured," says Gary Yates, president and CEO of The California Wellness Foundation. "This lack of coverage has significant implications for the health of the state's residents and the vitality of the health care system."

To improve health insurance coverage for all Californians the report recommends that the state simplify the application process and expand outreach to California residents who are eligible but not enrolled in Medi-Cal and the Healthy Families Program. The report's authors also recommend expanding the Healthy Families Program to cover parents up to 250% of the federal poverty level, which could cover up to 518,000 uninsured parents.

"It's very clear that the expanding economy is not going to expand health insurance coverage for the millions of working Californians who are now uninsured, particularly the state's ethnic and racial minorities," said E. Richard Brown, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. "Federal matching funds are available to help the state expand its Medi-Cal and Healthy Families Program coverage to include more uninsured residents, particularly parents of eligible children. It makes good fiscal and policy sense to take maximum advantage of this opportunity to expand access to health insurance coverage. The state and federal governments should act now."

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