Counties Consider Health Access Plan
California counties are considering strategies to expand access to health services for the uninsured, but a plan approved last week by San Francisco supervisors likely will not work everywhere, according to Alameda County Health Services Agency Director Dave Kears, the Contra Costa Times reports (Kleffman, Contra Costa Times, 7/29).
The San Francisco Health Access Program aims to provide access to health services for the city's estimated 82,000 uninsured residents. The program is expected to cost about $200 million and will be funded by a combination of state, business and individual contributions (California Healthline, 7/26).
According to the Times, San Francisco "has unique qualities that make it the perfect place to launch such an experiment," such as an established primary care system, a "sizable amount of health care dollars it can redirect" and fewer uninsured residents than many areas. San Francisco also operates as a city and a county.
William Walker, Contra Costa County Health Services director, noted that in other counties all cities would have to impose business contribution mandates, which would be difficult.
Kears said businesses could move to other communities if mandates are enacted. In addition, not all counties operate their own health care systems.
However, Mitch Katz, director of the San Francisco Public Health Department, said other counties could implement parts of the city's plan, such as redirecting funds and requiring businesses and the uninsured to contribute to programs (Contra Costa Times, 7/29).
"Health care reform in California is at a turning point" because "[b]usiness has taken a seat at the bargaining table" as the "potential costs of remaining on the sidelines are mounting," Len Nichols, director of the health policy program at the New America Foundation, and Peter Harbage, senior program associate of the health policy program and president of Harbage Consulting, write in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece. Nichols and Harbage cite the San Francisco Health Access Program as one of several health care reform efforts that involve the private sector.
Nichols and Harbage write that while some labor leaders "remain skeptical of business' intentions, ... employer participation promises new opportunities for consensus to trump gridlock" and that "a new set of principles would gain more attention" (Nichols/Harbage, Los Angeles Times, 7/30).