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Tulare County Hospitals Want to Form LIHP

Senate member Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) is not interested in leaving federal health care dollars on the table.

That’s why she introduced a bill last week in the Senate Committee on Health that would enable local hospital districts in Tulare County to gain access to about $4.5 million in federal money over the next 18 months for a local Low Income Health Program (LIHP).

“Under current law, the county’s non-participation [in LIHP] precludes hospitals from leveraging the federal dollars that are available under the Medicaid waiver,” Fuller said last week in a Senate health hearing. “We can improve health care access with this, particularly in rural areas.”

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors meets on Apr. 17 to decide whether or not it wants to support LIHP. If that answer is no, Fuller said, it’s important to have a backup plan in the works.

Lindsay Mann,CEO of the Kaweah Delta Health Care District in Visalia, agreed that the best choice would include the county’s involvement.

“We are hopeful that Tulare County will take its intended role as contractor for the county for the Low Income Health Program,” Mann said. “Over six months, we have not come to agreement in spite of numerous meetings. If those meetings fail, Tulare County, as the second-most impoverished county in the state, we cannot afford to miss out on $4.5 million in federal funding.”

Mann said uncompensated care in his district has risen from $13 million a year to $29 million a year. “That’s not in charges, that is in hard costs,” Mann said. “So we are vitally interested in pursuing the opportunity that is being taken up by most of the counties in California.”

According to the Department of Health Care Services, 47 of the 58 California counties are currently operating a LIHP, while seven of them are in the authorization process and three of them (including Tulare County) have not yet set an implementation date for their LIHP. Only one county in the state, Fresno County, has withdrawn from establishing a LIHP, DHCS officials said.

The California Primary Care Association came out against Fuller’s bill, SB 1081, but mostly because it wants to encourage Tulare County to participate, according to Doug Kim, director of legislative affairs at CPCA.

“We’re not opposed to LIHPs,” Kim said. “Most of our concerns relate to the implementation. We want to make sure Tulare County stays involved.”

The bill passed out of committee on an 8-0 vote. It is an urgency bill, which means it would need two-thirds approval in the Legislature.

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