By Hilary Abramson
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
If every working California adult is “headed over the cliff” for lack of affordable health insurance, as the co-author of a new statewide study contends, then Latinos will be the first to go.
California has no racial/ethnic majority, but according to the report by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, the burden from “crumbling” employer-based insurance is shared unevenly. Non-Hispanic whites continue to have the highest and Latinos the lowest rates of job-based health insurance coverage.
“If the Latino population weren’t so damned healthy, the cliff would have collapsed by now,” says Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, professor of medicine and director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health, which was not involved in the study.
More than 6.5 million Californians under the age of 65 more than one in five lack health insurance, according to the study that covers 2001-2003. The figure includes nearly 1 million children. E. Richard Brown, the study’s co-author and director of the health policy center, reports that the cost of job-based family health insurance coverage escalated nearly 80 percent in the past few years.
Contrary to stereotype, nearly two-thirds of the state’s uninsured children have parents with full-time jobs. But many employers have passed on the escalating costs by cutting benefits for spouses and children. Those seeking private health insurance may find lower premiums, but usually have higher deductibles and, according to Brown, “skimpy” coverage.
“I think that the trends we’re seeing are a clear indication that we are all headed over the cliff in not being able to afford health insurance coverage for ourselves and our families,” Brown concludes.
According to this latest analysis of insurance in California, dependents cut from employer rolls and unable to afford private insurance have turned to state, federal and expanded county programs. The study, which was funded by the California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation, does not estimate additional costs to government for use of its programs.
Nowhere does the study’s message hit harder than in California’s racial and ethnic communities. Non-elderly Latinos and American Indian/Alaska Natives report the highest rates of non-insurance. While 66.6 percent of non-Hispanic white workers report having employment-based health coverage, only 34 percent of Latino workers were similarly insured the lowest rate among all groups. In 2003, Latinos had the highest rates of non-insurance, with one in three uninsured for some or all of the year. One in four of American Indians/Alaska Natives was uninsured during some or all of 2003; most of them do not have access to Indian Health Service medical clinics or hospitals, which are available only on tribal lands.
Shana Alex Lavarredo, the other author of the study, says the disparity in job-based health insurance is due to issues of citizenship, education, and lower-paying service, retail and restaurant jobs all of which work against California’s Latino population. Just 37 percent of non-citizens with green cards are covered by employer-offered insurance, according to the report.
“There is something peculiar about California that wasn’t a part of our research,” Lavarredo says. “If you’re a non-citizen Latino here, you’re less likely to have employers offer health insurance than you might from employers for the same job in another part of the country.”