Local health officials applaud governor's proposals

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - A proposal unveiled by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week to mandate health care coverage for all Californians left Solano County Health officials enthused, finding the governor's efforts to be a bold move toward fixing a broken system.

The proposal, which intends to provide health coverage to California's 6.5 million uninsured - including up to 5,000 children and up to 25,000 adults ages 18 to 65 who are uninsured in Solano County - is a daring step by the governor in the right direction, said Patrick Hughes, executive director for Solano Coalition for Better Health.

Moreover, it could help to curb unnecessary medical expenses.

"The cost of not having insurance coverage is greater than what it would cost to cover the uninsured," Hughes said. "It's an absolute illusion to think we're not paying for the costs of the uninsured. We're paying and we're paying for it through insurance rates."

According to Schwarzenegger, "unpaid medical bills mean billions of dollars in hidden taxes for the rest of us because those services all have to be paid for."

A study by the New America Foundation estimated the average family pays about $1,186 a year in "hidden taxes" through health insurance premiums to cover the uninsured.
But Solano County holds top rank for children with insurance - only 2 percent are uninsured - and ranks in the top two in the state for having insured adults, lessening the impact of the proposal compared to others in the state.

"The cost of treating the uninsured is still a major issue and moving from uninsured to coverage will require rethinking and reallocation of resources. And that's where the debate will be," Hughes said.

For Jacque McLaughlin, director for Solano Kids Insurance Program of Solano Coalition for Better Health, a discourse by the governor that identifies children's health coverage as a priority is commendable.

"He's tackling the big issues and it requires compromise from a variety of folks," she said. "We've been very fortunate in Solano County to have the kind of support we have but there is a limit, unfortunately."

The Coalition's locally funded Healthy Kids Insurance Program provides insurance coverage for 1,200 children annually and is supported by private funding. Still, between 3,000 to 5,000 children in Solano County remain uninsured.

"We need state partnership to finish the job," McLaughlin said. "There is no reason in society for any child to go without coverage."

Solano County Health and Social Services director Patrick Duterte is unclear about the effects Schwarzenegger's proposal would have in the county. He does believe, however, the way to solve this problem depends on collaboration by various entities.

"There may be some disagreement on how this gets pulled off by businesses since the county has so many small businesses, but it really has to be done collaboratively with the government, individuals, health plans, hospitals, businesses and all who interact with the health industry," he said.

The governor's proposed plan would require health plans to sell insurance to anyone, regardless of health conditions.

Increased Medi-Cal rates and eliminating the uninsured will direct $10 billion to $15 billion in new money to hospitals and doctors. A coverage dividend of 2 percent on doctors and 4 percent on hospitals will help to cover the increased Medi-Cal rates. Additionally, employers of 10 or more who do not provide coverage will pay an "in-lieu fee" of 4 percent of payroll.