Improved affordability is key to universal health care, UC Berkeley Labor Center report says

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Improved affordability may be paramount to making universal health care a reality in California, according to a report released by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

The report, which was written by Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, and Laurel Lucia, director of the center’s Health Care Program, explores the challenges Californians face in affording premium and out-of-pocket costs associated with health insurance.

The findings of the report focus on Californians who purchase private insurance individually and those who are eligible to purchase insurance through Covered California but remain uninsured.

The California Health Care Foundation, or CHCF, a nonprofit based in Oakland that supports universal access to quality health care, supported the findings of the report.

Lack of affordability is a prominent reason as to why some individuals are deterred from having health insurance, according to Amy Adams, a CHCF senior program officer.

“We supported this analysis because we think it’s really important to understand what are the options California has to expand coverage and move to universal coverage,” Adams said.

After analyzing California’s affordability in the individual market and studying programs based in other states, Lucia and Jacobs proposed a five-part policy solution that tackles the affordability issue. The solutions include improving premium affordability, increasing financial assistance for upfront costs and providing state subsidies, among other suggestions.

While each policy change tackles a different cause of inaccessible health care in California, all five changes are geared toward making health care affordable, according to Lucia. She added that the findings and policy recommendations in the report have been sent to policymakers in hopes of inspiring change.

“In terms of our method, we looked at the available survey data, analyzed Covered California enrollment data and looked at other available research to try to understand who (is) facing affordability problems,” Lucia said.

Undocumented individuals make up the greatest proportion of uninsured Californians, followed by those eligible for, but not insured by, Covered California, according to Lucia.

“(The) high cost of living makes it difficult for some families to afford health care along with other basic needs after paying rent,” Lucia said.

While the labor center has been studying issues that affect uninsured people for years, researchers began officially compiling data for the report in fall 2017, Lucia said.

The policy goals have been distributed to statewide stakeholders, advocacy groups and legislative staff, among others, according to Lucia. She added that it is critical to focus on promoting the affordability of health care, given that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty, which charges a fee to individuals who can afford health care but are uninsured, will be eliminated next year.

“Affordability is the top reason that those eligible and insured lack insurance,” Lucia said. “Even though we’ve made a lot of progress under the (Affordable Care Act), a lot of Californians need help to afford insurance.”

Contact Ella Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @EllaSmithCA.