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Study shows more employers dropping coverage for children



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Sep. 23--Half of California's poorest children will be covered by publicly funded health programs and one in five on the lowest economic rungs will be uninsured by 2010 if health costs are not curtailed, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

A decline in affordable job-based family insurance benefits is to blame, says the report by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and San Jose-based think tank Working Partnerships USA.

For every 10 percent rise in health care premiums, employer-based coverage for children drops an average 0.6 percent, the report says.

"As job-based family coverage has dropped off, Healthy Families (California's health plan for children) has been making up for it," said Ken Jacobs, deputy chairman of the Berkeley center. "We're predicting that the number of insured will start to rise again, however."

Nationally, 60 percent of employers offered family health insurance last year, down from 64 percent in 2000. The average employer premium for family medical insurance increased 33 percent to $8,760 between 2000 and 2003. The average worker contribution rose 57 percent to $2,621 during that time, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

In California, 55 percent of employers offered a family health plan in 2000. In 2003, 54 percent did. The average employer premium during that period rose 43 percent to $8,422, while the average employee contribution jumped 73 percent to $2,552.

Those trends will continue for the foreseeable future and push more California children into public programs or into the ranks of the uninsured, researchers predicted.

In 2004, the state provided health coverage for 2.71 million children. By 2010, approximately 3.18 million kids will be enrolled in public medical program. The number of uninsured children -- regardless of family income -- will rise from 12 percent to 14 percent during the same period.

One in five children whose family income falls below $52,395 -- three times the federal poverty level -- will be without coverage by 2010, the report said.

"These numbers show that the problem is really starting to reach the middle class," said Sarah Muller, associate policy director for Working Partnerships USA. "It's clear that if we don't act soon that you'll see more and more children filling the emergency room and a growing number who go uninsured."

Medical insurance costs for children will continue shifting from the workplace, researchers concluded, placing a "major financial strain" on working families and public programs.

"Public coverage programs are serving as a huge safety net for children," Muller said. "But if we do nothing, the number of uninsured children will increase."

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