A record 94% of Californians had health insurance coverage in 2020, but access issues persist


Eli Kirshbaum


With 94% of Californians reporting having health insurance in 2020, the state reached a “milestone” for health insurance coverage last year. This finding was highlighted in a policy brief that used data from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR)’s annual California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), released Wednesday.

The largest state health survey in the country, CHIS surveyed over 20,000 Californians in 2020 and asked them various questions about their health status.


Stay one step ahead. Join our email list for the latest news.



This data represents the highest rate of coverage CHPR has ever recorded since it began conducting the CHIS in 2001. 

At a CHPR webinar on Wednesday, Sean Tan, MPP, senior public administration analyst at the CHPR and author of the brief, said:

“This indicates that there is a window of opportunity for the state to achieve universal health care coverage for ensuring that all Californians have health insurance.”

The brief says state and federal policy responses to COVID-19 were likely the reason for California’s high coverage rate during the pandemic. While coverage was anticipated to decrease in 2020, initiatives like grace periods for premium payments and flexibilities in Medi-Cal enrollment made it easier for Californians to acquire and maintain coverage.


Image: UCLA Center for Health Policy Research


Despite this record coverage, the brief highlighted persisting issues with equitable access to health care. For instance, one in 10 Black and African American respondents reported not having a usual source of medical care, despite this demographic having an 88.2% coverage rate.

Among Black and African American Californians without a usual source of care, 27.5% were children aged 0 to seventeen, 68.8 % were adults aged 18 to 64, and 3.7% were aged 65 and older.

The brief reads:

“…the path to covering all Californians is not guaranteed without greater attention to those who remain without health insurance. About 2.3 million Californians were not insured in 2020; under current policies, many of these individuals will continue to be ineligible due to their citizenship status.”

The brief encourages the continued pursuit of policies aimed at reducing barriers to coverage, including a broader use of telehealth. It also emphasizes the “critical need” for public health interventions focused on equity and that prioritize the needs of marginalized communities.