Colusa, Yuba falling short on insurance
About one in four Colusa County residents had no health insurance in 2000, according to the first-ever county estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
With percentages hovering at 20 percent or more, Colusa and Yuba counties were both above the state average of close to 19 percent uninsured. More than 6 million California residents went without medical coverage.
Anthony Wright, with the consumer group Health Access California, called the figures "unacceptably high."
"An uninsured person lives sicker, dies younger and is one illness away from financial ruin," Wright said.
Rural Colusa County had one of the highest percentages of uninsured residents in the state, estimates show. The bureau calculated that 4,334 to 5,138 Colusa County residents lacked private or public-sector insurance coverage.
Of those, 1,100 to 1,416 were children under age 18. About one in five of Colusa County's children could have been without health coverage.
In Yuba County, close to 20 percent of residents went without health insurance, the bureau estimated.
The estimate of uninsured in 2000 ranged from 12,387 to 14,767. Children under 18 without insurance ranged from 2,987 to 3,999.
Sutter County had an estimated 14,471 to 17,629 residents who were without health insurance, with 3,197 to 4,423 of them under 18.
The first-ever Small Area Health Insurance Estimates were devised by the bureau to measure the total population with and without health insurance. The study also calculated the number of children under 18 who do not have coverage.
Decennial Census questions do not ask whether people have health insurance. But the bureau's statisticians took data from population estimates, aggregated tax returns, food stamp and Medicaid participation records to come up with numbers for every county in the United States.
The bureau said the initial estimates were considered experimental.
A study by the University of California Los Angeles Center for Health Policy estimated that 6.3 million Californians went without health insurance in 2001 with children comprising more than 1.3 million of the uninsured.
Julie Eckardt, director of marketing and community relations for Sutter North Medical Foundation, said the not-for-profit spent $9.6 million in 2004 to cover patients who had no insurance or were underinsured. Net patient revenue was $44 million that year.
"We do have a charity care policy that acts as a safety net for the under and noninsured," Eckardt said.
Though the not-for-profit's mission is to provide care for the community, it does create operational difficulties to provide a service and not be reimbursed, Eckardt said.
Administrators at other area hospitals could not be reached for comment.
Rideout Memorial Hospital, in its Form 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service for fiscal 2004, said it spent $143.9 million providing acute and skilled medical care for which it did not receive full or partial payment.
Rideout reported 35,678 visits to its Marysville emergency room during the fiscal year, according to the IRS filing.
Wright noted that large numbers of uninsured put pressure on the healthcare system - particularly emergency rooms. Hospitals cannot get reimbursed if they have to handle a high percentage of uninsured patients.
And the more employers that do not offer health insurance to their workers, the more competitive pressure there is on companies who do offer coverage to get rid of it, Wright said.
State legislators have proposed bills that would either provide health coverage for uninsured children, or offer universal coverage to people.
Bills include SB 840, which would create a new state program providing health insurance to all California residents; and AB 772 and SB 437, which would expand eligibility for children to families making up to 300 percent of the poverty level.
Appeal-Democrat reporter John Dickey can be reached at 749-4711. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.