Fewer California residents are receiving health insurance from their employers, report says

kcarlson@modbee.comDecember 22, 2013 

A much smaller percentage of California residents receive health insurance through an employer than was the case 25 years ago, a report said.

Data compiled by the California Healthcare Foundation showed that 54 percent of residents received coverage through their jobs last year. That’s down from 63 percent in 1988.

Despite its reputation for sunny beaches and affluent lifestyles, California has more residents than any other state who live without insurance to pay for medical bills, which restricts their access to doctors and makes them vulnerable to financial ruin if they get sick.

Although more residents have resorted to public health programs, 1 in 5 Californians under age 65 have no insurance, the seventh-highest uninsured rate in the nation.

The report, “California’s Uninsured: By the Numbers,” was released last week to provide a snapshot of the uninsured before major provisions of the federal health law take effect next month. The state is considered a testing ground for President Barack Obama’s initiative to extend coverage to more Americans through insurance exchanges operated in each state.

The report includes estimates that 3.1 million people in California will remain uninsured despite the federal law. The latest numbers on employer-provided insurance show that:

• One in 4 adults who work are uninsured.

• About 40 percent of those working for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees are likely to have no insurance.

• More than 30 percent of the uninsured have annual household incomes of $50,000 or more, and 62 percent of uninsured children have parents who worked full time in 2012.

The report offers no explanations for the steady erosion of employer-provided health coverage in California, which follows a national trend. An April report on the national decline in employer-based insurance, released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, suggested the main factor was the rising benefit costs shared by employers and their workers.

“Employers continue to shoulder about the same percentage of costs from employees’ health insurance as they did 10 years ago, but everyone’s costs have increased dramatically,” said Risa Larizzo-Mourey, chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Higher costs naturally translate into fewer employers offering insurance coverage and fewer employees accepting it, even though it is offered.”

Nationwide, the average cost of annual premiums for a single employee was about $5,000 in 2011, double the cost in 2000; the annual cost of family coverage rose from $6,415 in 2000 to $14,500 in 2011.

In California, almost 25 percent of adults ages 35 to 44 were likely to be uninsured in 2012, compared with 18 percent in 2000. The likelihood of being uninsured was 22 percent for people ages 45 to 54, up from 16 percent in 2000.

Last year, Latinos accounted for 57 percent of the state’s uninsured population, even though the ethnic group represented 41 percent of the general population under age 65. Whites accounted for 25 percent of California’s uninsured, 11 percent were Asian, 5 percent were black and 2 percent were in other ethnic groups.

The report from the California Healthcare Foundation said the Affordable Care Act should reduce the number of uninsured, “although a significant number will be left behind.”

It projected that 2.6 million people will be newly insured in 2015, including 1.6 million who obtain private coverage and 939,000 who will be enrolled in the expanded Medi-Cal program.

Of those obtaining private coverage, an estimated 1.18 million people will have subsidized or catastrophic health plans through the Covered California exchange, 173,000 will receive employer benefits and 282,000 will have nonsubsidized health plans.

The report estimated that 3.1 million people will remain uninsured, including 959,000 undocumented immigrants who are not eligible. More than 700,000 people eligible for Medi-Cal are not likely to enroll because of lack of awareness or the program’s history of a difficult enrollment process and limited access to care, and 1.4 million won’t enroll even though they are eligible through Covered California.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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