Study: 36% of state's Latinos have no health insurance

June 29, 2001|By ROBERT NOLAN, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — A study presented this week by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research showed 36 percent of California Latinos living without health insurance in 1999, compared with 11 percent of Latinos nationwide.

Figures for each congressional district were released by the group, and California's 52nd District, which includes the Imperial Valley, showed the number of uninsured Latinos to be 31 percent, three times higher than the national average.

The study, funded by The California Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes disease prevention and better access to health care, revealed that 22 percent of the state's total nonelderly population does not have health insurance.

Despite an increase in job-based coverage from 1994 to 1999 for people of all ethnic groups, the number of people of color insured by state-subsidized Medi-Cal declined, resulting in high numbers of uninsured throughout California. However, the total number of Californians without health insurance went from 6.5 million in 1997 to 7.3 million in 1998 and down to 6.8 million in 1999.


"Though there is notable improvement in California's employment-based coverage, this study makes it clear that people of color, the working poor and those unable to work continue to be at the highest risk of being uninsured," said Gary Yates, president and chief executive of the California Wellness Foundation.

The group cited the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, complicated application procedures and the declining economy as factors in the high numbers of Latinos without health insurance.

"The biggest reason for these high numbers is a lack of understanding of insurance policies," said Roberto Rubio, a member of the Mexican American Political Association in the Imperial Valley who decided to start his own company so he could provide his wife with affordable health insurance.

Applications for state-funded Medi-Cal requires California residents to list all assets, and Rubio said his three "junky cars" barred him from receiving assistance. By listing his wife as an employee, he was able to avoid the $400 per month premiums charged by local insurers.

The Imperial Valley's agriculture-based economy also contributed to a lack of coverage, with farmers hesitant to provide temporary workers with benefits when exports are down and costs are up.

"Most of the Latinos here do labor, and large established companies don't feel the need to compensate them with health insurance," Rubio said.

Ninez Ponce, a senior researcher at UCLA who helped conduct the study, noted the consistencies between regions with high populations of Latinos and low numbers of insured residents.

"The 10 Assembly districts with the highest uninsured rate among nonelderly adults also have the highest percentages of ethnic minority residents, primarily Latino," said Ponce.

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