New Republic Examines Problems in Los Angeles County Health System
The Los Angeles County health system has "evolved haphazardly, beset by corruption and inefficiency ever since its creation" and has "always been underfunded," the New Republic reports. About 2.5 million Los Angeles residents lack health insurance, and many receive care services in the system's public clinics (Cohn, New Republic, 11/20). Partly as a result of treating many uninsured patients, the system faces an estimated $750 million budget deficit by 2005, and county officials are considering whether to close Harbor-UCLA and Olive View-UCLA medical centers, as well as dozens of public health clinics, to balance the budget. The county received a $1.2 billion federal bailout in 1995 and an extension of the funds in 2000, but the bailout funds will expire in 2005 (California Healthline, 11/4). As a partial solution, county voters on Nov. 5 approved Measure B -- a ballot measure that will raise property taxes to fund the county's trauma care centers and emergency rooms -- which will cover about 40% of the projected shortfall. In addition, Gov. Gray Davis (D) has "recently hinted" that he will submit a health care assistance plan to a special session of the Legislature, the New Republic reports (New Republic, 11/20). Federal health officials also recently proposed giving the county $150 million in aid, but county officials say the amount "falls far short" of the $1.4 billion they requested to "avert massive cuts." According to a Nov. 1 memorandum from the county health department to county supervisors, the proposed $150 million would not be enough to prevent the closing of the two UCLA medical centers. Federal health officials have said that no official agreement had been reached and that "negotiations are not over" (California Healthline, 11/4).
The Bush administration still seems to be "walking away from the problem," the New Republic reports. Although the federal government has approved assistance packages for the airline industry and "giant farm conglomerates," it has been "decidedly less generous toward Los Angeles' medical system," the New Republic says. CMS Administrator Tom Scully said, "We don't want to create a meltdown in L.A. County hospitals, but I have to explain to Houston and New York and St. Louis and Nashville why L.A. County is getting a special deal." He added, "I don't think it's our responsibility to just write them a check and bail them out. ... I have no plans to be a knight in shining armor." According to the New Republic, it will "take an epidemic to jolt Washington into action. After all, the public health situation in the United States is already critical. ... Yet the White House still has 'no plans to be a knight in shining armor.' Let's hope it gets some before it's too late" (New Republic, 11/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.