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Center for Labor Research and Education


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Many employed Californians go without health insurance

Sacramento Bee

Lynda and Bill Jackson had been unemployed for a year, bills stacking up and their life savings dwindling, when the envelope with grim news arrived.

In a blink of an eye, their health insurance was gone. The Jacksons joined the growing ranks of Americans without medical coverage.

At some point during the past two years, newly released studies show that more than one in every three Californians under 65 went without health insurance for at least a month, and researchers say there may be no recovery in sight, even when the recession lifts.

The Obama administration says health care reform is a top priority. Business groups, health care advocates and politicians seem to agree.

But with billions of dollars at stake and the issue steeped in politics, it’s anybody’s guess what kind of change will unfold in the coming months. On Monday in Los Angeles, the White House will hold the last of its five regional forums on health care overhaul.

The severe economic slump has cost millions of jobs. As a result, health coverage is “declining precipitously,” according to a study conducted by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

Since the start of the recession, according to the UC study, an estimated 3.7 million working-age adults nationwide have lost health coverage ? about 500,000 in California. By 2012 that will likely swell to 600,000.

“The longer the recession lasts, the greater the likelihood it will result in deeper economic shifts that could shape employer-based health coverage in years to come,” the study said.

To help weather the downturn, more employers are asking workers to carry a heavier share of health premiums. A growing number of companies, particularly smaller businesses, are eliminating health insurance coverage altogether.

“Even if the economy recovers, the coverage rates for working age adults won’t return to pre-recession levels,” said Ken Jacobs, co-author of the UC study.

On Thursday, Families USA, a Washington-based health care advocacy group, released a survey showing that 37.4 percent of Californians under 65 went without health insurance for at least one month in 2007 and 2008 ? with three-fourths of that group doing without coverage for at least six months.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 45.7 million Americans went uninsured in 2007 for the entire year. The government’s estimate does not include those who temporarily went without health coverage, like the Jacksons.

According to Families USA, 80.2 percent of the 12.1 million uninsured Californians are employed but are in jobs that do not provide health coverage.

“For those people, they simply can’t afford to get health coverage on their own,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

The Jacksons’ troubles began two years ago after they lost their jobs with a local manufacturer.

For a time, the Jacksons paid $648 a month for a health insurance plan offered by their former employer.

When that plan was suddenly canceled, the couple were on their own. They spent five months quarreling with the company to get their health insurance restored. It was ? but the couple now pays $2,251 every two months for the insurance.

“We’re just struggling to make things work, living on the money we saved for the future. We figure it’ll all be gone in a year,” Lynda Jackson said. “Maybe we’ll have to go without health insurance. We just can’t continue like this.”