Nearly half of Anaheim’s residents are on CalOptima, a county administered public health insurance program for Orange County’s poorest residents. 

The number of CalOptima enrollments has long been a way for officials to put a thumb on poverty’s pulse – the higher the enrollment rates, the poorer the area. 

“If people aren’t able to afford to live, health care is always something that you put on the backburner, because of its cost,” said Marisol Ramirez, chair of the Latino Health Access board. 

Anaheim residents make up 16% of CalOptima’s nearly 1 million enrollees, despite the city only constituting about 11% of Orange County’s roughly 3.2 million residents. 

And 13% of the city’s residents live in poverty, according to census data.

Latino Health Access, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit, routinely assists struggling residents through food drives, access to health care resources and helping people navigate social safety nets. 

Ramirez said she’s alarmed by Anaheim’s high CalOptima enrollment rate and said the local government has a responsibility to provide a pathway for people to get healthcare.

“It’s a high percentage and that’s not a good thing,” she said. “We need to really pressure our city leadership to vocalize on those matters on how we can create something that works for its constituents.”

Anaheim’s also home to the Disneyland Resort, where workers have just successfully pushed the entertainment juggernaut to follow the city’s minimum wage law through an appeals court – meaning workers could see their wages rise to nearly $20 an hour.

[Read: Disneyland Workers Could Get Nearly $20 an Hour Following Appeals Court Ruling]

And now a union-backed ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage for hotel workers to $25 an hour is expected to come before voters in a special election in October amid opposition by a majority of city council members and resort interests.

Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11 – the union that spearheaded the measure, said in Thursday’s interview that the high CalOptima enrollment rates in Anaheim is “disgusting.” 

She said the minimum wage initiative could help address the issue.

“It’s so irresponsible of the city,” Briceño said. “Residents want to stand on their own, they’re already working really hard, and they deserve to be paid enough so they don’t have to qualify for assistance and they’re going the opposite direction.”

“What else needs to happen for them to understand that the system is broken.”

On the other hand, Anaheim officials say the hotel worker’s minimum wage would hurt the resort economy and reduce tax revenue to the city. 

The enrollment statistics were presented to Anaheim City Council members last week when top officials from CalOptima and the Orange County Social Services Agency warned nearly half of the city’s residents could soon be without health insurance after a series of changes to the renewal process.

“We’re here because we’re concerned that one in two residents of Anaheim may lose health coverage,” An Tran, director of the Social Services Agency said at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

That means over 150,000 low income residents, including children and seniors, could be without health care.

The only other OC city with higher enrollment rates is Santa Ana.

In a Thursday email, CalOptima officials said 54% of Santa Ana’s population are enrolled in the program. Residents there make up about 17% of the nearly 1 million CalOptima enrollees.

Michael Hunn, CEO of CalOptima, said at Tuesday’s meeting that a person can qualify for MediCal, the state’s low-come health care program, if they make less than $21,000 a year. 

“If you’re a family of four making less than $41- $42,000 a year, you’re also eligible to receive the medical health insurance benefit. There are no premiums, there are no co-pays,” Hunn said.

Click here for CalOptima’s sign up page.

After the presentation, not one city council member asked any public questions about the issue, instead pushing city staff to roll out a public messaging campaign about re-enrollment changes.

City officials posted a news release on the issue on their website Thursday.

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and the rest of the city council members did not respond to requests for comment. Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors. 

Ramirez said it’s a shame that the CalOptima presentation fell on deaf ears.

“We need to be able to have leadership that’s willing to have these conversations and that are able to connect the dots on how these things cross over,” she said.

OC’s Most Vulnerable at Risk of Losing Health Insurance

Tuesday’s warning comes months after Gov. Gavin Newsom terminated the COVID-19 state of emergency – a declaration that had been in place for the past three years and allowed people to stay enrolled in MediCal.

During that three year period – the annual health insurance renewal process for MediCal had been suspended but now it’s picking up again and officials worry that people could lose their health care in the process.

“The last thing we want is someone showing up in their doctor’s office in the emergency room, and finding out the card that they have is no longer valid, and they don’t have health insurance,” Hunn said.

Anaheim apartment complexes. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Hunn and his agency began ringing alarm bells earlier this year that the end of the emergency declaration could mean 146,000 of OC’s most vulnerable residents lose their health coverage.

The warnings came around the same time food bank leaders across the state raised concerns of a food cliff expected to rock millions of Californians amid the loss of COVID food benefits.

[Read: End of COVID Emergency Means Loss of Healthcare For Up to 146,000 Poor OC Residents]

Tran said there are steps residents can take to minimize losing their health care: update contact information for their insurance, create a new account on, and check their mail for information on insurance renewal.

On July 29, CalOptima and the Social Services agency will host an event from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Ponderosa Park in Anaheim to help people with the renewal process for MediCal.

The Fight Against a $25 Minimum Wage

The same day Hunn and Tran spoke to Anaheim officials, city council members voted 5-0-2 to submit arguments against a ballot measure coming before voters in a special election in October that would raise the minimum wage for hotel workers to $25 an hour.

Aitken and Councilman Carlos Leon abstained from the vote.

Council members’ arguments against the hotel worker proposal are similar to ones made by resort interests and previous elected officials against Measure L – a 2018 voter approved minimum wage initiative that requires city subsidized resort industry employers to pay workers more.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel ruled that Disneyland is subsidized by the city and most comply with Measure L – a ruling city officials question.

The hotel worker minimum wage ordinance is known as Measure A and Anaheim voters will decide its fate at the Oct. 3 special election. 

Meanwhile, hoteliers have pushed back against the union-backed measure, arguing it would drive up prices and hinder the resort industry’s success. 

Workers argue the increase in pay will help them pay rent amid rising housing costs across the state.

Hotel workers picketing outside the Sheraton Park hotel in Anaheim, California, on July 11, 2023. Credit: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of OC.

In recent weeks, hotel workers in Southern California have also gone on strike amid contract negotiations demanding better pay, largely tied to rising housing costs.

The median household income in Anaheim is $81,806, according to census data.

In Orange County, a single person is considered low income if they make less than $80,400 a year, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development. 

Briceño said that the majority’s move to oppose Measure A is wrong, especially with the potential loss of health insurance that will impact hotel workers.

“It is devastating to understand that while they’re having a hard time keeping a roof over their heads and providing for their families, that they have, yet another burden that comes upon them,” she said.

“What a shameful thing in the happiest place on earth.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


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