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California's Uninsured on the Eve of ACA Open Enrollment

Section 5: About the terms used in this report

The Eligible Uninsured: For purposes of this report, the uninsured are defined as those Californians ages 19-64 who have been without coverage for at least two months. Those who had been uninsured for less than two months were excluded from the survey since they may be experiencing a short period of uninsurance (i.e. someone who is between jobs), and the goal of the survey was to capture the experiences and views of those who have been without insurance for a longer period of time and are poised to experience the new coverage provisions of the ACA.  Because the coverage expansions under the ACA do not extend to undocumented immigrants, most analysis is based on the 78 percent of this group who report being U.S. citizens or permanent residents, described in shorthand as the ‘eligible uninsured’. Those who volunteered they were here on student visas are also included in this category.

The Undocumented Uninsured: For the purposes of this report, undocumented immigrants are defined as those who reported a) they were not born in the United States or Puerto Rico, b) they came to this country without a green card, and c) they have not received a green card or become a permanent resident since arriving. There are several ways that this definition, while workable for the purposes of a broad analysis of this sort, falls short of the complexity of real life.  First, it relies on self-reporting, and since respondents have an incentive not to reveal unlawful immigration status, it is undoubtedly a somewhat imperfect measure. Second, those that did not answer all three in the series of immigration status items (24 respondents) were not able to be categorized. Third, by necessity of time and efficiency, the survey did not allow for a full exploration of the many nuances inherent in the U.S. immigration system. For example, this category may actually include a small number of individuals in California as refugees, asylees or other humanitarian immigrants who might better be placed among the ‘eligible uninsured’. The survey, unfortunately, does not allow this level of detailed sorting.

Income categories: Because eligibility for two of the law’s main components – the Medi-Cal expansion and the tax credits being made available to purchase insurance on the new exchanges – is based on an individual’s family income relative to the federal poverty level (FPL), in many cases we report survey results among the eligible uninsured by FPL categories. Those with incomes 138% FPL or less (roughly $32,000 a year for a family of 4) will be eligible for Medi-Cal coverage, while those with incomes greater than 138% and up to 400% FPL (roughly $32,000-$94,000 for a family of 4), will be eligible for subsidies to purchase insurance through Covered California, the state’s new marketplace. Those with incomes above 400% FPL will be allowed to buy insurance through Covered California, but will not be eligible for subsidy assistance. For convenience, we will sometimes refer to the group with incomes 138% FPL or less as the “Medi-Cal target group”, and those greater than 138% and up to 400% FPL as the “exchange subsidy target group”. These obviously are approximations that do not allow for every real world exception to be taken into account. For example, lawfully present immigrants may remain subject to a five year wait before they may enroll in Medi-Cal, but for the purposes of this analysis they are included in the Medi-Cal target group if they meet the income criteria. Similarly, some of those in the exchange subsidy target group may not be eligible for marketplace subsidies if they have access to affordable employer coverage, a situation difficult to ascertain in a phone survey.

Section 4: What comes next CA Uninsured Survey Methodology