A health care crisis is sweeping the Central Valley, devastating middle-class and poor families and threatening to overwhelm the region's fragile safety net.
The deep recession has pushed the ranks of the uninsured here to unprecedented levels. At the same time, a dire state budget deficit has forced lawmakers to drastically scale back or eliminate key health care programs for the state's poorest residents.
At the nexus of these two trends lies a troubling new reality: Across class lines, people are struggling to access care — or simply are going without.
Doctors and nurses at county and nonprofit clinics say they're seeing mounting numbers of out-of-work professionals and laid-off blue-collar workers joining the chronically poor and undocumented in waiting rooms throughout the region.
In the past few years, growing numbers of unemployed workers have added 700,000 to the ranks of the state's uninsured, bringing the total to 7.1 million.
In Stanislaus County, more than 90,000 people are uninsured, including a quarter of all adults ages 18 to 64, according to the most recent census data. An additional 105,000 low-income residents are enrolled in the state's Medi-Cal program.
"When people become uninsured, not only do they live sicker, they die younger, they're one emergency away from financial ruin and there are very few options available," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, which advocates for affordable health care for all Californians. "It's a tattered safety net that has gotten worse because of the budget crisis."