VENTURA COUNTY: Report Supports County Health Plan For Welfare Recipients
A new grand jury report supports Ventura County's proposal "to offer low-cost health insurance to people enrolled in its welfare-to-work program -- and anyone else working for the employer that hires them," the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the report, the county developed the program "under the premise that many small business owners cannot afford insurance for their workers, and the 8,800 or so welfare families in the county should be within reach of some form of health insurance." Under the county's plan "to offer the insurance to participants in the CalWORKS state welfare reform program," insurance premiums would be "shared among the recipient, the employer and, when necessary, the county" -- running $150 to $175 per month for a family, "with no deductibles and low copays." The Times notes that employers would have incentive to participate in the program because "all of their employees, not just the ones coming off of welfare, would have access to the low-cost county health plan."
Officials at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura County "contend that the county plan was drafted with something else in mind: making money." They argue that the county does not need a low-cost plan when "there are plenty of private firms providing low-cost insurance." "I think they're doing it to further their goal, which is to run more patients through the county and the county hospital and away from private providers," said Michael Lurie, director of managed care at Community Memorial. The Times reports that county Supervisor Frank Schillo "is still debating the pros and cons of the insurance proposal." Schillo said he sees the "need to provide low-cost insurance to welfare recipients, many of whom show up at the county hospital with serious needs and no coverage." However, he also said "he does not want to compete with insurance companies." Schillo said, "My concern is that we not do anything to compete with the private sector."
All Systems Go
The Times notes that Ventura County is licensed "to run its own HMO" and "could legally provide the low-cost health insurance to welfare recipients who reenter the job market." The grand jury report recommends Ventura County Medical Center as one county agency that could "underwrite the health insurance, which it estimates could result in an annual income of $7 million to $9.6 million." The report estimates that $15.8 million to $18.5 million "would be collected from all welfare families" per year, and "[a]ssuming that the yearly medical bill for each family averaged $1,000, the annual cost for benefits would be about $8.8 million" (Bustillo, 3/28).