State Senator Hancock examines plight of Oakland’s uninsured
on September 23, 2009
Imagine a capacity crowd of 63,000-plus Raiders fans filling the Oakland Coliseum. Now, imagine the Coliseum filled to the brim with anxious, uninsured Oaklanders worried about suffering an injury or illness they literally can’t afford. Newly released U.S. Census Bureau statistics showed the number of Oakland residents without health insurance in 2008 – 63,582 – was more than enough to sell out a Raiders home game.
Examining this new data at a Wednesday press conference at East Oakland’s La Clínica de la Raza, State Senator Loni Hancock warned the ranks of the city’s uninsured residents has likely grown as the economic downturn continued into 2009.
“When you look at the number of uninsured in Alameda County, realize there will be more of them as we weather this recession, as people lose their jobs and take part-time and lower-paying jobs,” Hancock said, calling for health care reform at the national level. “Every one of them is a human being with a life, with a family.”
According to the census data, more than 170,000 people in Alameda County – 12 percent of the population – went without health insurance in 2008. Oakland had the county’s highest rate of uninsured residents with 17 percent, and more than one in five adults in the city aged 18 to 64 went without insurance.
Hancock and local health care providers met with community members in a third-floor conference room at La Clínica de la Raza on East 12th Street, while scrubs-clad nurses conferred in Spanish with patients of all ages on the clinic’s lower floors. Outside the Fruitvale district building was a busy urban scene – flirting teenagers loitered in front of stores, commuters hurried to and from BART and dented pickup trucks trolled for day laborers.
La Clínica de la Raza provides low-cost health care to a diverse group of patients, two-thirds of whom have incomes at or below the federal poverty level, and 94 percent of whom are either uninsured or on public health insurance. It is also a member of the Alameda Health Consortium, a body of eight similar community-based clinics spread throughout the Bay Area.
“Here at La Clínica, we are not surprised by these numbers. We live them every day,” said the organization’s CEO, Jane Garcia, citing a clinic waiting list of seven hundred families.
After Oakland, Hayward had the county’s second-highest rate of uninsured people, also topping the 20 percent mark for adults. Berkeley had the county’s highest rate of uninsured people under age 18, at 12 percent. Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and San Mateo counties all had an uninsured rate of more than 10 percent. Nationally, 46.3 million Americans went without health insurance in 2008.
Information security analyst Wendi Niehuis was laid off by Washington Mutual in February and attended the Wednesday morning gathering at La Clínica de la Raza. When she lost her job, she lost her health insurance as well. She says she relies on medications that cost more than $100 per month, money she can ill-afford to spend when she’s out of work.
“Eight months into my job search, I’m still looking,” she said. “I’m doing everything I can. I’ve had to cash in my 401(k) to pay bills and keep my lights on.”
With a blue HEALTH REFORM NOW! ribbon fastened to her dress, Niehuis said she remains unsure of what the future might bring for her and other uninsured citizens.
“I didn’t think that I’d ever be without health care, but I was wrong,” she said. “Now, I don’t know if I’ll ever have health care again.”
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