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Health care study sees more uninsured

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Sacramento Bee

One in four adults statewide will be uninsured by 2010 if health premiums
keep increasing by more than 10 percent a year, according to a new
study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Hardest hit by rising health costs will be workers at the low and
middle rungs of the wage ladder, predicted the study, released Thursday
by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and the
Working Partnerships USA, a union-supported nonprofit think tank in
San Jose.

That segment is most vulnerable because it includes people too old
to qualify for public health programs covering children up to age
18 and those too young to enroll in Medicare, the government insurance
program for seniors 65 and older.

"What we are seeing is a health care crisis that is spreading
all the way to the middle class," said Arindrajit Dube, a senior
researcher at UC Berkeley and co-author of the report.

From 2000 to 2004, California adults with access to employers’ health
insurance fell to 58 percent from 61 percent.

That percentage will keep falling, the study predicts. By 2010, only
53 percent of workers will get offered insurance on the job, according
to the study.

The situation will be worst for the lowest paid workers. Only 30 percent
of those in the lower half of the income spectrum will have job-based
health insurance by 2010, according to the study.

Nationwide, the annual cost of job-based family medical insurance
increased 50 percent between 2000 and 2004, with an annual average
rate jump of 11 percent. In California, premiums for job-based family
coverage grew an average of 13 percent a year.

Over the last four years, health coverage nationwide from all sources
– including employers, public programs and privately purchased coverage
– declined, adding 7 million adults to the rolls of the uninsured
for a total of 39.5 million.

In California, about 500,000 people became uninsured from 2000 to
2004, for a total of 5.6 million by the end of last year.

"This problem is not going away," said Sarah Muller, a
policy director with Working Partnerships USA and co-author of the
study. "The new economy is not producing jobs with health coverage,
and working adults who don’t get insurance on the job can’t afford
to buy coverage on their own. Many of them become the working uninsured."