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1 in 5 Children in O.C. Lacks Health Coverage

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

One in five children in Orange County has no medical insurance, the highest ratio of 12 areas surveyed nationwide, a new health care report states.

The report by health advocacy group in Washington found that 19.1% of Orange County’s children are uninsured, compared with a national average of 11.9%.

The statistics show that even in a pocket of affluence, children are suffering, said Felix Schwarz, executive director of the Health Care Council of Orange County.

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“People who don’t have health insurance generally don’t get care until their condition is so serious that they end up in the emergency room,” Schwarz said.

The nationwide survey, conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change, found that Orange County had more uninsured children than 11 other randomly selected communities, including Miami, Newark, N.J., and Lansing, Mich. The center surveyed 24,000 families nationwide.

According to the advocacy group Children NOW, other studies in the state have determined the ratio of uninsured children to be about 25% in Los Angeles County, 16% in the Central Valley counties, 13% in San Diego County and 11% in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

According to the Center for Studying Health System Change, 68% of the uninsured children are in two-parent households, and more than three-quarters have working parents.

However, among about half of the families with working parents, the employer does not offer health insurance, the survey found. Among the other half, insurance is offered but the parents are ineligible, or children are not covered, or the parents decline to insure their children.

The vast majority of employed parents with uninsured children work low-paying jobs, said Patty Freeman, senior health policy associate with Children NOW. Further, the recent trend has been for employees to pay for a larger share of medical coverage, she said.

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Consequently, even if an employer offers insurance to a lower-paid employee, the worker may not be able to afford it, she said. “You’re also looking at paying rent and food and other necessities,” she said. “There’s simply not money left over for health care.”

The national survey also found that among ethnic groups, more Latino children were uninsured: 29%, compared with 14% of African American children. (Latinos make up 25% of Orange County’s population.)

In addition, 37% of the uninsured children in the survey were eligible for Medicaid coverage but were not enrolled.

Children NOW’s Freeman said many people wrongly believe they must be welfare recipients to qualify for Medi-Cal. In the late 1980s, the program was expanded, but many practical and educational obstacles keep poor families from applying, she said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Insuring Children

Orange County had the largest percentage of children showing up in emergency rooms without health insurance among 12 randomly surveyed metropolitan areas around the country. Percentage of children without coverage:

Orange County 19.1

Little Rock, Ark.: 18.4

Miami: 18.4

Phoenix: 18.3

Cleveland: 14.5

Greenville, S.C.: 10.3

Indianapolis: 9.2

Boston: 8.0

Newark, N.J.: 7.5

Syracuse, N.Y.: 7.3

Seattle: 7.2

Lansing, Mich.: 5.5

Sample average: 11.9

WHY CHILDREN ARE UNINSURED

Parents’ employer doesn’t offer: 38%

Parents unemployed: 22

Parents ineligible for coverage: 15

Parents-only coverage: 14

Parents refuse coverage: 11

Source: Center for Studying Health System Change; Researched by MARCIDA DODSON/Los Angeles Times

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