ORANGE COUNTY: Best Care For Uninsured In The Nation
"[R]esearchers aren't sure why ... uninsured Orange County residents have an easier time getting medical care than uninsured people anywhere else in the country," the Orange County Register reports. According to a study in yesterday's Journal of the American Medical Association, uninsured Americans' access to health care often depends on where they live, and Orange County "is the best place to be" if you're uninsured (see yesterday's CHL). The researchers, led by Peter Cunningham and Peter Kemper of the Center for Studying Health System Change, hypothesize that the "county's wealth and proximity to Los Angeles" contribute to the low uninsurance rate. The study is "a real positive thing for Orange County. It validates our public-private partnership and the valuable role the community clinics play in providing health care to these individuals," said Herbert Rosenzweig, director of the county's medical-services program for the indigent. But some county health officials "questioned the findings," the Register reports. "From our perspective in the trenches, there's an access problem; we could be open a whole lot more than we are and do a lot more than we do," said Jacki Cherewick, executive director of the Huntington Beach community clinic and president of the county's community-clinic coalition. "We're open every day, six days a week, and we will still have to turn people away every day of the week," Cherewick said.
Reading Between The Lines
The study released yesterday found that in other areas of the country, better access to care for the uninsured is related to the community's "safety net" of clinics and hospitals that care for the poor. But that finding didn't hold in Orange County. "Our initial site visits showed that the safety net in Orange County in terms of the numbers and level of funding wasn't necessarily that good," Cunningham said. The Register reports that "a separate study three months ago showed that the county's safety net is crumbling and estimated it would cost at least $15 million to repair." Cunningham and Kemper went on to suggest that the high level of access to health care in the county is due to the fact that the "area is very wealthy, with a higher-than-average supply of doctors" who "might be more willing to treat some [patients] for free or at reduced cost." Also, the uninsured in the area can easily "cross county lines into areas with extensive health care facilities," such as Los Angeles County. The "support system" within the county's large population of uninsured Hispanics and "referrals to culturally sensitive doctors" also helps access. In addition, researchers cite the county's Medical Services for the Indigent program. "It's one of the few programs in the country that provides any compensation to private physicians who provide care to the medically indigent," Cunningham said (9/9).