SAN JOSE: Council To Debate Insurance Plan for Kids
All eyes are on San Jose as the city council prepares to take up a proposal tonight that would provide health insurance to all of the city's children. The $6 million-per-year initiative -- created by Working Partnerships, a South Bay AFL-CIO affiliate, and the activist group People Acting in Community Together -- is the first such plan attempted at either the city, state or federal level and would reach some 37,000 uninsured children. Partly financed through the city's portion of the national tobacco settlement, the monies would be used to enroll children and cover their premiums for state or federal insurance programs or to pay for private insurance policies for those children ineligible for subsidized care (Guido, San Jose Mercury News, 6/12). Both the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County would each kick in $2 million annually, while another $1 million would come from California's 50-cents-per-pack cigarette tax. The final $1 million would be provided by private sources (Van Slambrouck, Christian Science Monitor, 6/12). State health care foundations have already expressed interest, as the California Health Care Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation both wrote city officials last week that they were interested in helping to finance the plan. CHCF Senior Program Officer Jill Yegian said: "This idea has attracted lots of interest from the philanthropic community at large -- there are a lot of different funders looking at this" (Gaura, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/9).
"Here's an excellent opportunity to provide health access and health education and to begin to really be a part of preventive and ongoing health care for children," Felix Alvarez of the Santa Clara Family Health Plan said, adding: "It's a very, very progressive plan. And it will be a milestone that will probably set an example for other cities and counties in the state" (San Jose Mercury News, 6/12). The San Jose initiative "would set a precedent for the rest of the state and the entire nation to follow," Marian Wright Edelman, director of the Children's Defense Fund, echoed. But the plan faces opposition from San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales. Gonzales spokesperson David Vossbrink said: "The larger issue is whether we can support healthier communities without being directly in the health care business itself," adding that health care has traditionally been a county issue (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/9). Gonzales wants to use the tobacco funds for education, antismoking campaigns and senior programs. Joining the mayor are six of the 11 city council members, including Pat Dando. Switching sides last week, Dando said that she is "not convinced we know what kind of health care program San Jose's children really need" (San Jose Mercury News, 6/12). She added: "I'm not taking anything off the table. I simply want more information, and a public process that will allow us to examine the real needs and costs" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/9).