SAN DIEGO COUNTY: Panel Urges Revamping Of Health Care System
A regional advisory council is proposing that San Diego County improve its health care system by "expanding care for the poor, centralizing indigent services and closing some facilities," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The 23-member ad hoc Regional Healthcare Advisory Council said in its report "if the county does not act soon, funding and access problems with the current system will be worse." The report predicts "[h]igher cost of care for everyone, fewer businesses offering health coverage to their employees" and "more and more uninsured residents." The panel, formed by county Supervisor Dianne Jacob last year, is "composed of 18 representatives of physician, hospital, community clinic, business and consumer groups -- with five experts from around the nation."
The Union-Tribune reports that the council recommended a "market-oriented strategy" that includes making access to health insurance "a priority"; creating "a purchasing framework" through a combination of funding from the state's Medi-Cal program, the county's Medical Services and other programs; using such funds to purchase "medical services for the medically needy" from HMOs; "closing or consolidating hospitals"; and creating "an information system to permit public and private health care purchasers to buy from the most cost-effective providers."
Stepping Into A Minefield
The Union-Tribune notes that HMOs in the area "have squeezed physicians and hospitals economically [by] seeking to pay lower rates for the benefits they offer their members," a trend that has "caused considerable turmoil among medical providers." And while lower reimbursement "has lowered the employers' overall cost of health care," it also has "led to quality-of-care concerns" and "limited access to care," according to some consumers. "One of the challenges facing the county is how to put the report's recommendations into effect in such a political and economic minefield," the Union-Tribune notes. "We can suggest places to look, goals we've heard of and report proposed solutions. But the decisions are local political and economic ones that the people in San Diego will have to make and buy into," said Joan McIver Gibson, University of New Mexico health science ethics director and the panel's head. "Although the report ... addresses an array of problems, it does not include specific methods to correct them," the Union-Tribune reports (Dalton, 2/12).