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1.2 million Californians lost employer health benefits since 2009

October 25, 2012|By Chad Terhune
  • Thousands of the uninsured seek free care at a recent health clinic in Los Angeles as employer-based health coverage declines in California.
Thousands of the uninsured seek free care at a recent health clinic in Los… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

About 1.2 million Californians lost employer health benefits during the recession while enrollment surged in government insurance programs, a new study finds.

The number of people getting health insurance at work has been steadily declining for years in the Golden State, but those losses accelerated from 2009 to 2011, when the Great Recession took a heavy toll on many businesses, according to the study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

In 2011, 16.1 million Californians had employer-sponsored health coverage, a drop of 1.2 million from 2009, researchers found. The percentage of Californians with workplace insurance fell to 49.7% last year, down from 56.4% in 2001.

"We're seeing the toll of two years of high unemployment with the loss of job-based insurance," said Shana Alex Lavarreda, the study's lead author and director of UCLA's Health Insurance Studies Program.

The state's Medi-Cal and Healthy Families insurance programs picked up much of the slack from private insurance. The percentage of Californians enrolled in those safety-net programs rose to 19.1%, or 6.2 million people last year, up from 15.7% in 2009.

Meantime, the percentage of uninsured residents remained fairly steady at nearly 7 million Californians, or 21% of the under-65 population.

The federal Affordable Care Act is expected to extend coverage to about 4 million Californians starting in 2014 through an expansion of Medi-Cal and with government subsidies toward the purchase of private insurance in a state-run exchange.

The economic slowdown and unrelenting rise in healthcare costs have forced many companies to cut back on health benefits or stop offering them altogether. Some businesses are also considering giving workers a fixed sum so they can shop for their own individual policy.

"It's clear that the job-based model just doesn't work for everyone in an age of high unemployment and rapidly changing job markets," Lavarreda said.

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