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Numbers of Uninsured Students on Two L.A. area CSU Campuses Drops Again During Second Covered California Open Enrollment

March 11, 2015

Drop in the percentage of Uninsured Latino Students is even more dramatic

Polls suggest that Percentage of Uninsured students in the CSU system is below 10%

The percentage of uninsured students on two CSU southern California campuses may have reached all-time lows, according to a new poll taken on two CSU campuses.  The polls were taken on the campuses of Cal State L.A. and Cal State Long Beach. Of the seven large CSU campuses polled at the end of the first California open enrollment period in April 2014, these two campuses were the only ones to have more than 10% of students still uninsured.  The polls were taken in the week after the close of Covered California open enrollment on February 15.

According to the new poll, the percent of uninsured students on the Cal State L.A. and CSULB campuses is now nine percent, reduced from 19% at Cal State L.A. and 15% at Cal State Long Beach. (See chart 1)

According to Walter Zelman, a professor at Cal State L.A., and director the CSU Health Insurance Education Project, the fact that the percentages of uninsured students at Cal State L.A. and Cal State L.A. are below 10% strongly suggests that fewer than 10% of CSU students statewide remain uninsured. He estimated that if the second open enrollment period reduced the numbers of uninsured students on other CSU campuses just modestly, only about 5-7% of CSU students remain uninsured.

In a seven campus poll taken in April-May of 2014, after the close of the first open enrollment period, the percentages of uninsured students on CSU campuses was:  Cal State L.A. 19, CSULB 15, Cal State Fullerton 10, San Jose State and Cal State Sacramento 8, and Fresno State and Cal State Northridge 7.

Drop in Percentage of Uninsured Latino Students

The percentage of Latino students also declined significantly, especially at Cal State L.A. At CSULB the reduction was from 19% at the end of the first open enrollment period to 12% at the end of the second open enrollment period, ending last month.  At Cal State L.A. the percentage of uninsured Latino students fell from 41% in October, 2013, before the first Covered California open enrollment to 26% after the first open enrollment to just 10% after the second open enrollment period. The 10% is virtually the same as the percentage for all uninsured students at Cal State L.A. The overall reduction in the percentage of Latino students at Cal State L.A. is 76%. (See chart 2) (Note: there was no pre-enrollment poll taken at CSULB in October, 2013).

Cal State L.A. and CSULB were part of a CSU-wide education and outreach project funded by a grant from Covered California. The project covered both of the Covered California’s open enrollment periods, placing trained student educators on all of the CSU’s largest campuses. More limited activities were carried out on several non-staffed campuses.

Zelman emphasized that the CSU student population is predominately lower middle to lower income, and 18-24 years old. It is over 30% Latino. “In California, and for most of the nation, a rate of less than 10% uninsured for a population like the CSU student population is probably unprecedented,” Zelman said.  “Even more striking is the reduction in the percentages of uninsured Latino students.” All of these three demographic categories—low-income, 18-24 years old, and Latino—are well known as having disproportionately high numbers of uninsured individuals. 

The new two-campus polls also found that:

  • Forty-one percent of Cal State L.A. students and 26% of CSULB students reported that at least one member of their family, not including themselves, had signed up for insurance through Covered California or Medi-Cal. (See chart 3)
  • If seven percent of all CSU students are now uninsured, that would be a reduction of 70% from the estimated 25% of CSU students who were uninsured at the start of the first California open enrollment period in October of 2013.
  • In terms of numbers of students, a reduction from 25% uninsured to 7% uninsured equates to a reduction from about 112,500 uninsured students in October 2013 to about 31,500 today, or about 81,000 students.
  • The reduction in the percentage of uninsured students at Cal State L.A. has been particularly dramatic—from 35% in October 2013, to 19% after the first open enrollment period, to 9% today, an overall reduction of 75%.   (See chart 1)

Zelman noted that the polling data cannot reveal much reliable information about the remaining uninsured students because “the numbers are so small that no reliable conclusions can be reached.”

Zelman suggested that a variety of factors probably account for the sharp drop in the numbers of uninsured CSU students, including:

  • Strong and widespread outreach efforts by Covered California.
  • CSU-wide support, starting with Chancellor Timothy White, of the Health Insurance Education Project.
  • Effective peer-to-peer outreach by project student coordinators.
  • The willingness of CSU faculty to allow student coordinators to make five-minute presentations in classrooms. (Project coordinators made over 2,500 classroom presentations over the course of the project).
  • The reality that many students would face a financial penalty if they did not have insurance, a penalty which, for approximately half of CSU students, would be greater than the lowest cost insurance plan available to the student.
  • The significant financial support offered under the Affordable Care Act, which made insurance affordable for many.
  • The decision by project organizers to avoid pro-con type discussion of the ACA and focus only on the opportunities and responsibilities students faced under the new law.

Zelman said that he hoped the CSU model would be considered by other university systems and community colleges across the country interested in improving the access of their students to health insurance. 

He noted that even if the Supreme Court rules that government tax credits are only available in state exchanges, the newly insured CSU students will be able to keep their insurance. But he noted that “if California did not have a state-run exchange, much of our effort might be in vain, and many of these students, all trying to better their chances and contribute by getting a college education, would lose their insurance. Something seems wrong with that equation.”  

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