Riverside County Seeing More Patients in Need of Discounted Care
The number of people eligible to receive discounted medical treatments has nearly doubled in Riverside County, while at the same time, hospital officials are seeing drops in state and federal funding, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports.
By the end of June, nearly 16,650 residents qualified for the county's medically indigent care program, up from about 8,100 in June 2006, according to the Riverside County Regional Medical Center.
Observers say the ongoing recession and rising unemployment levels have left many local residents without health insurance coverage.
In June, unemployment in Riverside and San Bernardino counties reached 13.7%, the highest rate recorded since the state began keeping local records in the 1970s.
California law requires counties to provide medical programs for people ages 21-64Â with incomes lowerÂ than 200% of the federal poverty levelÂ who do not quality for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program. Beneficiaries must reapply every year.
In 2007, state hospitals spent an estimated $3 billion on medically indigent programs, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
That year, Riverside County Regional Medical Center spent more than $89 million on indigent care. In nearby San Bernardino County, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center spent about $52 million.
California's public hospitals already faced budget strain prior to the economic downturn because of declining revenues from taxes and fees, according to the California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems.
Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and state lawmakers passed a budget revision package that deepened funding cuts for state health care programs, which could drive more people into local indigent care.
Doug Bagley, CEO of Riverside County Regional Medical Center, said the hospital will need to extract $25 million from its reserve fund to balance its budget through June 2010.
However, Bagley said the facility will not reduce services for the indigent care program (Hines, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 8/6).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.