Not the records we were hoping to break…

The U.S. Census Bureau asked us to stand up and be counted. New numbers are in for 2009, and they are BIG! The Bureau released stunning new data on income, poverty and health insurance for 2009. On health coverage specifically, California has shattered records on the numbers and percentages of uninsured and Medicaid enrollment demonstrating a desperate need for the health reforms promised in the Affordable Care Act.

* Nationally, the percentage of people without health insurance increased to 16.7 percent in 2009 from 15.4 percent in 2008. The number of uninsured people increased to 50.7 million in 2009 from 46.3 million in 2008.

* In California, the total uninsured in 2009 was 7.2 million compared to 2008’s number 6.7 million–a jump of nearly a half-million more uninsured. This is the highest rate of number of uninsured persons, and the highest rate of uninsurance, ever found in California, using the current Census methodology.

* California is tied with Nevada for the fifth worst uninsurance rate in the nation.

* The change reveals a decrease of people with private insurance, with the national percentage of people covered by private health insurance decreasing from 66.7 percent to 63.9 percent. The percentage of people covered by employment-based health insurance is 55.8 percent nationally, is the lowest since 1987, the first year that comparable health insurance data were collected.

First and foremost, this data reinforces the need for a strong safety net in California, especially in economic times like these. As many middle-income families lose private health coverage, our public insurance programs like Medicaid have done heroic work in providing some security for many more. Those enrolled in Medi-Cal increased by 11 percent in 2009 from 2008. According to the Census, total Medi-Cal enrollment went from 5.7 million in 2008 to 6.3 million in 2009. Roughly 1 in 5 (19.3 percent) Californians were enrolled in Medi-Cal for the full year in 2009. This is the highest enrollment level and highest rate found under the current Census methodology, since 1987.

Yet policymakers are considering, in responding to California’s budget crisis, making the situation much worse, by ordering additional cuts to Medi-Cal and other core services at exactly the time they are most needed.

And many more need the help.The data shows that millions of real people in California (7.2 million) do not have access to affordable health care. We see a record number of Californians losing coverage, and thus living sicker, dying younger, and being one emergency away from financial ruin.

Various provisions of the federal health reform law between now and 2014 would expand patient protections and coverage options. A number of California bills that would begin to help address some of the problems identified by the census if they are signed by the Governor. His Administration is also negotiating a Medicaid waiver that would work to expand coverage earlier than 2014. But there is still much more work to be done.

Today’s numbers are a sobering reminder that the ability of all Californians to lead healthy and productive lives depends on our work toward ensuring access to quality and affordable health care to all our communities.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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