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California and the West

Shift Is Seen in Health Coverage for Kids

By 2010, employer plans could cover fewer than half of California's children, putting a strain on public agencies, studies say.

September 23, 2005|Debora Vrana | Times Staff Writer

Fewer than half of California's children will have health coverage through a parent's job by 2010 if current trends continue, according to a pair of studies released Thursday.

Rising premiums are eroding coverage of children nationwide, and the result is more of them are enrolling in tax-supported public programs such as Medi-Cal, according to the studies, released by the nonprofit California Endowment.

If premiums continue to rise at current rates, an estimated 2.7 million more U.S. children will shift to public insurance in five years, according to one study, conducted by the nonprofit Economic & Social Research Institute in Washington. The second study, by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, estimated the number in California at 470,000.

On the positive side, fewer children are uninsured in California now than five years ago, the studies found.

Coverage for children jumped to 88% in 2004 from 83% in 2000, the UC Berkeley study found. That's because more children lacking employer-sponsored insurance were covered last year by Medi-Cal or the state's Healthy Families program for children.

Employer-sponsored coverage is declining primarily because of rising health insurance premiums, which make the employee's share of the cost unaffordable for some workers, the studies found. In addition, more companies are declining to offer coverage especially to lower-salaried workers.

"Despite the best efforts on the part of many employers, healthcare coverage for their employees continues to decline, due in large part to the skyrocketing costs of providing healthcare coverage," said Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California, a trade group.

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