Foon Rhee

Bad news for Obamacare haters

Nathaly Gonzalez joined others at a Capitol rally in May celebrating the expansion of Medi-Cal to children and teens illegally brought to the United States.
Nathaly Gonzalez joined others at a Capitol rally in May celebrating the expansion of Medi-Cal to children and teens illegally brought to the United States. Associated Press

For the legions of Obamacare haters – as well as those who rail against big government – here’s something to think about: From 2008 to 2014, the percentage of California children without health insurance was cut in half.

In large measure by enthusiastically adopting the Affordable Care Act, quickly creating its insurance marketplace and expanding the Medi-Cal program for the poor, the state cut the rate of uninsured kids from 11 percent to 5 percent.

It’s the most noticeable improvement in the well-being of our children in the latest Kids Count, and a main reason why California has its best ranking on health of all the measures in the index.

Now, more than 70,000 children are enrolled in the Covered California marketplace. Easier sign-ups and more outreach under Obamacare also helped boost the number of children covered by Medi-Cal to 5.6 million – more than half of all California kids, according to a June report by The Children’s Partnership.

When Medi-Cal expanded to cover more adults, Obamacare required that they enroll their children as well. About 500,000 kids were added to Medi-Cal between October 2013 and September 2014, the partnership report says.

There were still nearly 500,000 kids without health insurance as of 2014, but that number will go down even further.

As of May 1, about 170,000 undocumented poor kids became eligible for Medi-Cal, thanks to the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown setting aside about $132 million a year in the state budget. Yes, that’s a big chunk of change, but preventive care will save money in the long run in our health care system, whether we pay for it in taxes or health insurance premiums.

The health coverage children are receiving is also better thanks to Obamacare, which required benefits including dental and vision care.

California children improved in health-related measures, according to the well-regarded Kids Count published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. That boosted the state’s national ranking in health to No. 11.

But California’s overall ranking is only 36th, dragged down because our children still lag in economic status and education.

The economic well-being ranking is a shameful No. 47, ahead of only New Mexico, Mississippi and Louisiana. In part, that’s because the poverty rate for children jumped from 18 percent in 2008 to 23 percent in 2014. That’s more than 2 million children living in poverty in California.

Also, California still ranks a mediocre 35th in education, though the rate of high school students not graduating on time improved significantly and students reading and doing math at grade level improved slightly.

It’s great that our kids are healthier, but for them to reach their full potential, their education and economic status must improve as well. And that may take some action by government, no matter how distasteful it might be to some folks.

By the numbers

How California compares to the U.S. average on selected measures of children’s well-being:

  • Living in poverty, 2014: California, 23%; U.S., 22%
  • High school students not graduating on time, 2012-13: California, 16%; U.S., 18%
  • Child death rate, 2014: California, 19 per 100,000; U.S., 24 per 100,000
  • Without health insurance, 2014: California, 5%; U.S., 6%
  • Teen birth rate, 2014: California, 21 per 1,000; U.S., 24 per 1,000

Source: 2016 Kids Count