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Huge increase in Sonoma County residents without health insurance

  • Uninsured patient Mary Lou Schwarz, right, hugs family nurse practitioner Mary Wyman following her treatment at the Sebastopol Community Health Center, which is part of the West County Community Health Centers, on Friday morning, February 18, 2011.

As the recession peeled away thousands of jobs in Sonoma County, the number of residents under age 65 without health insurance swelled by 25,000 in just two years, state records show.

More than 80,000 residents under 65 — one out of five people in that age group — were without insurance for all or part of 2009, according to the latest California Health Interview Survey.

Their ranks swelled by 43 percent during the depths of the recession, far outstripping an 11 percent increase statewide from 2007 to 2009.

Sonoma County had the highest rate (19.7 percent) of uninsured people under 65 in the nine-county Bay Area, but came in a little below the statewide rate of 21 percent.

Two out of three of the state's uninsured will become eligible for coverage in 2014 under the federal health care law, a report by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research said.

Mary Szecsey, executive director of West County Health Centers, said the surge in uninsured residents was no surprise.

"Overall, I think it's the economy," she said, noting that job losses are compounded by employers who "can no longer afford health insurance for their employees."

The west county group, with health centers in Sebastopol, Occidental and Guerneville, treated 3,555 uninsured patients in 2009, up 16 percent from 2007.

Last year, the number of uninsured patients jumped to 4,466.

Sonoma County's unemployed ranks swelled by 13,900 people during the same two years that 25,000 more people became uninsured. The unemployment rate more than doubled, reaching 9.7 percent in 2009, up from 4.3 percent in 2007, according to Employment Development Department reports.

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