So What's It Gonna Cost Me? New Health Reform Reports for California

Published on
December 10, 2009

The Senate may be taking a temporary break from health reform, but a journalist's quest for fresh angles on the topic never wanes. (If you're looking for some ideas, check out my previous tips here.)

To the rescue, for California reporters, at least, two new reports from the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education provide good data and context for stories about how health reform might play out in your community.

The first report estimates that nearly two million uninsured Californians would qualify for Medi-Cal (California's Medicaid program) under the current House bill, compared to 1.74 million under the current Senate bill.

These would be people whose previous options  were to be uninsured, have an individual health policy or have unaffordable employer-based insurance who were uninsured, in the individual market or had unaffordable. Another 1.93 million Californians would be eligible for subsidies in the exchange under the House bill, with 2.19 million eligible under the Senate bill.

The second report examines how provisions in the current House and Senate reform bills might alter health spending of California families who don't have insurance through their employers. Families who bought subsidized insurance through proposed health insurance exchanges could find themselves spending between 6.2 and 16.9 percent of their income on premiums and copayments under the House and Senate bills. Which raises the question: what is affordable?

The researchers also estimated that very low-income Californians (earning about $16,000 a year) would save about $5,000 on premiums and out-of-pocket costs under the House bill and about $4,100 under the Senate bill. That's compared to what these families would spend if they bought insurance in the individual market, although I've yet to see a family at that income level able to afford any kind of decent individual insurance policy.  

Interestingly, families who make almost three times as much would save only about $838 annually under both House and Senate plans, compared to what they'd spend with an individual insurance plan.

I could go on about the facts and figures, but what's relevant here is that there are some concrete financial figures that you can talk about with local families who will be affected by whatever health reform legislation finally comes out of Congress. How might families spend their money differently if they spent less on health care? Would they want more health care and medicine than they'd gotten before?

The estimates in these reports will undoubtedly change, possibly dramatically, as the Senate bill evolves and the two bills are ultimately reconciled,  but for now, it's helpful to have some benchmarks when you talk to "real people" about their health care costs and what they consider to be affordable.