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Survey: Progress In Enrolling California Uninsured

WebMD News from Kaiser Health News

By Anna Gorman

Tue, Jul 29 2014

A significant portion of previously uninsured Californians gained medical coverage through the nation’s health care law – about six in 10 during the state’s first open enrollment, according to a survey released Wednesday.

All told, about 3.4 million people who didn’t have health insurance before sign-ups began last fall are now covered, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The largest share of the previously uninsured -- 25 percent -- enrolled through the state’s Medi-Cal program, which has long covered poor families but was expanded this year to include adults without children. Nine percent purchased private plans through the subsidized insurance marketplace, Covered California, which opened in October. And 12 percent became insured through their jobs, the researchers found.

Sara Rosenbaum, health law professor at George Washington University, said the state’s progress has national importance.

“California is such an outsized presence in terms of uninsured people,” she said. “For California to have made this progress has a major effect on the national uninsured numbers.”

About 1.4 million people purchased private plans through the insurance marketplace by the end of open enrollment – far more than any other state, according to Covered California.  Nearly 2 million had enrolled in Medi-Cal.

Allynne Noelle, a principal dancer for the Los Angeles ballet, chose a Blue Shield plan offered by her employer through Covered California’s small business exchange. And although the $5,000 deductible is “extremely high” for her, she’s relieved, she said. 

“This new coverage is a peace of mind,” she said. “It will save me from drowning in medical bills.”

The number of previously uninsured Californians cited by the survey who have gained coverage is much larger than expected, said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, which helped create the official enrollment projections for Covered California.

“If the numbers are accurate and borne out by larger studies … I think it is an indication that the law is working even better than many of us anticipated,” he said.

Still Uninsured

Even though the state exceeded its own expectations for coverage, more than 40 percent of those previously uninsured still don’t have health insurance, according to the survey. Some said they didn’t enroll because of the cost, while others feared that signing up would bring attention to their family’s immigration status. Those who are in the U.S. illegally are not eligible for coverage.

The remaining uninsured may be hard to reach. More than 80 percent either have never been covered or haven’t had a plan in at least two years, the survey found. About 60 percent are Latino.

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