California is a bellwether for the nation, for good and ill. Today it’s for ill, in the most literal way. The state’s economy has crumpled and its politicians wallow in a budget gridlock that could shut down the charity clinics that are the last stop for the uninsured. Yet the clinics are bracing for an unaffordable wave of new clients–many of them workers who lost their insurance along with their jobs. No wonder Americans are demanding a federal overhaul of health care.
A recent report by the UCLA Center for Health Policy found that in the recent boom years, there was little increase in the state’s percentage of insured people–in 2007, one in five residents under 65 still lacked any health insurance for all or part of the year. A quarter of adults had no health insurance. The state’s unemployment rate is 8.4%–the nation’s highest, and rising. So those uninsured figures will rise sharply for 2008 and almost certainly in 2009. In November alone, the state lost nearly 42,000 jobs, and those folks haven’t even knocked at the clinic doors yet.
Thousands of the jobs being lost are at airlines, manufacturers and other big companies that are the likeliest to still offer decent insurance. And a high proportion of the newly jobless either can’t afford continuation insurance called COBRA, or once they lose COBRA, they’re denied insurance altogether because of even a minor health condition.
A new Washington Post poll finds that fixing health care is near the top of Americans’ list for action by the Obama administration. Yes, but. The phrase the uninsured, underinsured and dissatisfied with their cruddy insurance should fear most is, "We’re from the insurance industry, and we’re here to help you."