If you had to come up with a way to provide health insurance for L.A.'s nearly 3 million uninsured residents, would you:


Ask the federal government for money.


Ask the state government for money.


Talk about forcing employers to offer health insurance to all workers.


Do a study.

e) All of the above

If you answered all of the above, you'd make a good politician.

Thanks to the country's current economic prosperity, issues like health care that were formerly consigned to the political back burner are getting a great deal of attention this campaign season. On the national level, politicians have been talking about drug coverage for the elderly and preserving Medicare. But in Los Angeles, the health issue boils down to one major question: How do you help the working poor get health insurance coverage? Finding a feasible answer to the dilemma is crucial to L.A.'s economic future. Not only does illness increasingly threaten to devastate L.A.'s massive working poor population, but that illness, left untreated, threatens to spread to other sectors of the local workforce. It also is taking an increasingly large toll on L.A.'s public school population, which is heavily concentrated with uninsured children. While California's uninsured rate is 33 percent higher than the rest of the nation, Los Angeles County's rate is even higher than that of the state as a whole. In California, 7.3 million residents have no health insurance; almost half of those people reside in Los Angeles County. The problem of how to insure these people has bedeviled politicians for decades, though now that the state and federal governments are running a budget surplus, there seems to be more effort than ever to do something about it. Proposals are numerous, but the most frequently discussed are measures that would essentially throw the problem to the private sector requiring all California businesses to provide their employees with health coverage. Politicians tend to look to the private sector not only because it would avoid raising taxes, but because so many of the state's uninsured actually do have jobs. Most of them are working men and women in jobs that don't have many fringe benefits including, ironically, health care workers. "Eighty percent of the uninsured in Los Angeles County are employed," said state Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who has fought to get low-wage earners health coverage. These uninsured residents, most of them one or two rungs above the poverty level, can't afford to see a doctor. So when a medical emergency arises, they end up in the county's hospital emergency rooms, taxing the local health services budget.


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.