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California Center Works for Americans Without Health Insurance


More than 40 million Americans have no health insurance or access to inexpensive, high-quality medical care. A West Coast charity called the California Endowment is working to solve the problem, especially among immigrant and minority populations. The philanthropic group highlighted the issue as it opened a new resource center in Los Angeles.

The California Endowment makes grants to hundreds of community groups that provide health education or medical care to local residents.

Bob Ross, a physician and president of the endowment, says the United States is the only industrial democracy without a universal health-care plan for its citizens. "And we have 45 million uninsured Americans. We have seven million Californians without health insurance coverage," he said.

He says Americans spend one-point-seven trillion dollars a year on health care, more than anyone else, but people at the bottom of the economic ladder, including African Americans and Latinos, have higher rates of disease and a shorter life expectancy than other Americans.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa helped dedicate the new center. He is the city's first Hispanic mayor in more than a century, and he spoke about the growing Latino population.

"Many of those people, by the way, work every single day. They sometimes work two jobs, and they don't have health care, and neither do their children," he said.

The inauguration of the new center in central Los Angeles featured entertainment in keeping with the multicultural setting. The center is adjacent to Chinatown and the historic Mexican area of Olvera Street. Tyler Thompson, a 10-year-old African American from Oakland, California, performed a song from a Chinese opera.

Noriaki Ito is a Buddhist priest from the nearby Little Tokyo neighborhood, home to 10,000 Japanese Americans. He says many are seniors who get help with their medical needs from the federal Medicare program, a government plan for people 65 or older and the disabled. But he says that is often not enough to cover their costs.

Bob Ross of the California Endowment says the new center will attack the problem on two levels. "We call it a grass-roots to tree-tops approach, where we believe you have to have engaged communities working in neighborhoods, working at the local level, working on new solutions to solving these problems, but at the same time, those community leaders and organizations need to impose their ideas and their strategies on policy-makers at the treetops level," he said.

Legislators in Washington have implemented a drug-benefit plan to help seniors buy their medicines. The plan went into effect this year. And some states are seeking comprehensive health care solutions on their own. The Los Angeles mayor applauded the efforts of Massachusetts, which is implementing a health insurance plan that will ensure coverage for all of the state's residents.