SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: Health Authority Considers Starting HMO
The Santa Barbara Regional Health Authority may create its own Medicare HMO in an effort to "stabilize the local senior managed care market, keep premiums stable or lower them and increase benefits," officials said last week. The Santa Barbara News-Press reports that Health Authority administrators are currently examining the costs for the venture, which would benefit Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The Health Authority already supervises Medi-Cal plans for 40,000 low-income Santa Barbara County residents and could borrow $20 million from Medi-Cal reserves to start a not-for-profit HMO, according to Executive Director Dave Lamkin, who said the plan's earliest possible start date would be Jan. 2001. But Santa Maria physician Dr. Albert Hawkins, a member of the Health Authority's board, opposes the idea. "The timing is wrong now," he said, adding, "If you look at some of the for-profits, they're driving up premiums. We're going into a market that most people are going away from. I don't think the patient's going to come out ahead. I don't think the physician's going to come out ahead. I don't think the hospital's going to come out ahead." Although Santa Barbara County "has been spared a mass exodus" of HMOs thus far, officials fear that the area's "relatively low" monthly reimbursement rates eventually may prompt HMOs to flee. The Health Authority's board of directors will take up the issue again at its Dec. 15 meeting (Schultz, 11/7).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.