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East Bay residents lacked health insurance

About 11.5 percent of East Bay residents lacked health insurance last year, according to new census figures.

At least 1 in 10 East Bay residents lacked health insurance last year

The East Bay has a lower rate of uninsured than the state and nation, but more than 285,000 East Bay residents still went without any coverage during the recession’s first year.

Some cities fared worse than others in the U.S. Census Bureau’s newly released estimates.

Richmond was the least-insured city in the Bay Area, with about 20.6 percent of residents lacking health coverage. Antioch followed with 18.8 percent and Oakland with 17.5 percent of residents who lacked coverage.

Pleasanton, in contrast, had just 3.6 percent uninsured - the lowest rate in the state and one of the lowest in the nation for cities with more than 65,000 people.

The disparity between cities such as Richmond and Oakland compared with Pleasanton is not surprising, said Soren Tjernell, policy director of the Community Clinic Consortium of Contra Costa and Solano counties. Areas with the highest percentage of uninsured residents also tend to have lower incomes and more unemployment, he said.

“If you’re fully employed, you’re more likely to have insurance, and if you’re wealthy, you’re more likely to have insurance,” he said.

The disparities also cross state and regional lines. Though some of its cities had exceptionally high rates, the East Bay overall had lower rates of uninsured than the state (17.8 percent) and comparison, about 24 percent of Texans were uninsured, more than in any other state. And dozens of cities - from Dallas, with more than 30 percent uninsured, to Miami, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta and Newark, N.J. - had higher rates than any Bay Area city.

“That’s largely because of decisions made at the state level about Medicaid and Medicaid enrollment,” said Beth Newell of the Alameda Health Consortium, a coalition of clinics in Alameda County. “States can choose to provide coverage to more people. That’s optional. Texas has one of the lowest levels in terms of who they provide to. In California, it’s a little bit easier to get on.”

In the Bay Area, it could also be that there is a higher level of employer-sponsored insurance and a greater penetration of managed care programs, Tjernell said.

Community clinics in the East Bay also may be doing a better job of making sure that everyone who is eligible for such public programs as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families is enrolled, he added.

But Tjernell described the numbers as far from encouraging. He noted that more than one in 10 people still lack insurance, which is having a major impact on hospital emergency rooms.

Thousands of Americans were surveyed last year by the Census Bureau as part of the annual American Community Survey. Last year was the first in which participants were asked about their health insurance coverage.

Many officials predict that insurance levels have dropped since the survey was taken, because the impacts of the recession, which officially began in December 2007, grew worse throughout 2008 and 2009.

Not counting seniors, the vast majority of whom are eligible for Medicare, the rate of uninsured is higher. About 12.6 percent of East Bay residents younger than 65 lacked health care.

The two East Bay counties had similar rates of uninsured residents, but Contra Costa County had a higher rate of uninsured children. About 7.2 percent of Contra Costa children younger than 18 lacked health insurance, compared with 6.4 percent of children in Alameda County.

The fact that the rate of uninsured children is in the single digits throughout California is a result of the state’s supplemental health care coverage program for children, some officials said.

“A lot of it is there’s very aggressive outreach, social service outreach in Alameda County,” Newell said.

California has many industries, ranging from agriculture to service industries and entertainment, where many people lack coverage through work.

“Our job-based coverage is pretty low but we have pretty generous public programs that make up for it,” said Shana Alex Lavarreda of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Though the census figures reveal differences in how states and regions can affect local health policy, the rates of uninsured residents are not necessarily barometers of political thinking.

The congressional district with the nation’s second-highest rate of uninsured residents is a liberal Los Angeles district represented by Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra, according to the survey data. On the other hand, the city with the second-highest rate of uninsured people, Hialeah, Fla., is considered by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research to be one of the most conservative places in the country.

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East Bay residents lacked health insurance
East Bay residents lacked health insurance

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