In a county racked by double-digit unemployment, no health insurance is a way of life for many.
A report from UCLA's Center for Health Policy Research found that 31.6 percent of nonelderly people in Merced County don't have health insurance.
"This really shows the economic woes that we are in the middle of here," said Christine Noguera, deputy chief executive of Golden Valley Health Centers in Merced. "What it really means is people are not able to access the health care they need."
Merced County has the third-highest percentage of uninsured, behind Madera County with 32 percent and Shasta County with 32.7 percent. In California, 24.3 percent are uninsured. The lowest rates of uninsured are in San Mateo County, where 14.3 percent of the population is without health insurance.
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Noguera said because of the high unemployment rate in the county, which is at 18.9 percent, there are people without health insurance who have never had to deal with the problem before.
Nancy Larson, senior director for ambulatory services at Mercy Medical Center, said the clinics run by the hospital have programs to help the uninsured.
"We have a sliding fee scale based on whatever income people might have," Larson said. She added that most people who are evaluated for the sliding fee scale end up paying nothing.
"We have a financial counselor who will sit down with patients and try to find some type of insurance," Larson said.
Noguera said she believes when federal health reform kicks in, more people will be able to have health insurance.
"It won't happen tomorrow, but over the next three years it should get better," she said.
Larson said Mercy's clinics want people to come to the clinic rather than waiting until they are sicker to seek help.
"We will try and establish a patient with a primary care doctor," Larson said. "The cost is so much more if they go to the emergency room, plus there is no follow-up. We want to help them before anything develops into an emergency situation."
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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