In a significant yardstick of how health care coverage has blanketed the country under the Affordable Care Act, California ranked among states recording the biggest drop – 4.7 percent – in uninsured residents from 2013 to 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday.
The new data confirm California has seen “one of the largest impacts in the nation” in reducing the number of uninsured, said Peter Lee, director of Covered California, the state’s marketplace for health care insurance plans established by the reform.
“I am constantly amazed that in the face of repeated confirmation that (the Affordable Care Act) is working, there continue to be doubters and naysayers,” said Lee. “This is yet another confirmation that California is making it work.”
In 2013, roughly 6.5 million Californians lacked health care coverage, a number that dropped to 4.76 million last year, according to the census count, which Lee called the “gold standard” in measuring health care coverage.
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But Lee and others said it’s still not enough.
“The results are encouraging, but there’s more still to be done. We started at such a higher rate than most other states,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer health care advocacy coalition.
Wright said California’s next step should be to expand coverage to undocumented residents, as called for under SB 10, legislation introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.
“We cannot rest on our laurels,” said Lee, noting that roughly 3 million Californians remain uninsured. Of those, he said, about half are believed to be undocumented residents, who are ineligible to purchase policies under Covered California.
Covered California is moving into its third open enrollment season, from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31.
Nationwide, the number of uninsured Americans dipped nearly 3 percent, from 41.8 million residents in 2013 to 33 million last year, according to the census. Put another way: Nearly 90 percent of Americans carried health insurance for all or part of 2014, compared with 86.7 percent in 2013.
Children and older adults had the highest rates of coverage, mainly because those age 65 and older are covered by Medicare and many children are covered by their parents’ plans or state plans such as Medi-Cal that cover low-income families.
Younger adults – ages 26 to 34 – were least likely to be insured, with a coverage rate of 81.8 percent. That compares with 93.8 percent coverage for children under 19 and 98.6 percent for adults 65 and older.
One of the census data’s shortcomings is they don’t address the high cost of insurance, said Dr. Robert Zarr, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates a single-payer national health care insurance system.
In a statement, he called the number of U.S. residents who remain without health care insurance “intolerably high.” The census report, he said, doesn’t detail those who have insurance but “can’t afford to use it because of high deductibles and co-pays,” which can lead to financial distress and medical bankruptcies in cases of serious illness.