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November 26, 2008

1.3 million Cal kids lack health insurance

The nation has 8.6 million children who lack public or private health insurance and 1.3 million of them are in California, Families USA, a Washington-based advocate for expanded health access, says in a report based on new census data.

California, the nation's most populous state, is just behind Texas in the numbered of medically uninsured children, Families USA says, and at 12.5 percent has the nation's 12th highest rate. Texas is No. 1 at 20.5 percent.

Families USA, confirming previous reports, says that 88.2 percent of uninsured children come from families with at least one working adult. Families without earned income usually qualify for one of the public medical plans such as Medi-Cal. It's been estimated that more than 6 million of the state's 38 million residents lack health insurance.

Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried and failed to gain legislative approval of a plan to cover virtually all of California's uninsured residents. The full Families USA report is available here.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2008

Sudden health-care changes unlikely in California

Given all Barack Obama said about change during the presidential race, he might be expected to quickly revamp America's health-care system, which virtually everyone calls a mess.

Local people who have pushed for health-care reform say, however, they don't expect major changes in a hurry. But they do foresee the new president attending to the issue.

Tatiana Fassieux, manager of the Chico-based Health Improvement Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), which advises Medicare beneficiaries on their California health care coverage, recalled attending a conference last year where the next president spoke.

"Obama did talk about the benefits of a single-payer system," she said. However, with the nation's economic problems taking center stage, "I don't see any changes happening immediately," she added.

In a single-payer system, competition among insurance companies is eliminated, and one agency is put in charge of administering health coverage and paying providers.

For years, a local group, the Butte County Healthcare Coalition, has promoted a single-payer system for California and the nation. Several of its members told the Enterprise-Record they expect incremental changes from Obama. That doesn't thrill them because they believe single payer is the only real fix for what ails America's health-care system.

"We do think President Obama will do more than has been done so far," said Jeanne Ertle of Chico. She is a member of the local coalition and also vice-chairwoman of a statewide group, Health Care for All — California, which promotes single payer.

The term "universal health care" can have different meanings, she said. To some people, it just means everyone has health insurance of some sort. What it should mean, she said, is that everyone has access to the care they need. She's convinced single-payer is the only way to achieve that, she said.

Norma Wilcox, treasurer of the local coalition, said she's read Obama's health-care plan, which she described as "cautious." He proposed requiring parents to buy health care coverage for their children and said he hoped to cover two-thirds of those who now have no insurance.

"I think he's open to input and is testing the waters," Wilcox said.

Congressman Wally Herger, R-Chico, said in a phone interview from Washington that single payer has gotten lots of discussion in the House but that no plan has materialized.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2008

California farmers, ranchers struggle over health care costs

California’s farmers and ranchers are struggling with health care bills that, in some instances, threaten the viability of their family businesses, according to a report Wednesday by the Access Project and funded by the California Endowment.

The report finds that while almost all farm and ranch operators have health insurance, one in five says that California insurance premiums and other out-of-pocket health care costs are causing financial difficulties for themselves and their families.

These families report spending 37 percent of their income on health care coverage and medical costs.

“A better term for health insurance that leaves nearly one in five purchasers in financial jeopardy might be called ‘product failure’,” says Carol Pryor, a report author and policy director for the Access Project.

The survey also found that more than three in 10 farmers and ranchers (31 percent) are spending at least 10 percent of their annual income on health insurance premiums, prescriptions and other out-of-pocket medical costs. Spending this much on health care is a commonly used indicator of financially burdensome health care costs, the report’s authors say.

Farm and ranch operators are especially hard hit because they are often forced to buy insurance on the individual, non-group market, where insurance generally costs more and covers less, says the report.

The study shows that on average, those farmers and ranchers purchasing insurance in the non-group market spent almost twice as much on health care as those who got their health care coverage through off-farm or off-ranch employment. The median amount spent by farmers and ranchers who got insurance on the non-group market was $8,500 a year (including premiums and out-of-pocket costs), compared to $4,630 spent by people who got insurance through employment off the farm or ranch.

Three in 10 of the study’s respondents purchased health coverage directly on the open market. Nationally, only 8 percent of Americans obtain their health insurance this way.

“Right now farmers are faced with increasing costs for everything – fuel, feed, fertilizer. Adding exorbitant health care costs on top of these expenses is simply not sustainable and threatens the viability of family farm operations,” says Lynn McBride, director of the California Farmer’s Union.

One-fourth of those surveyed (26 percent) report having to draw on other financial resources to cover the costs of care. Of these respondents, 70 percent dipped into family savings and nearly one in three (29 percent) incurred credit card debt or increased existing debt. Others took out a loan, borrowed against their farm, withdrew money from a retirement account or turned to friends and family for help.

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Posted by healthinsurance at 12:27 PM | Comments (0)