Bridging the Gap
County still stalled on implementing temporary coverage under Obamacare.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Kathy Singley says she and her husband never get sick, but she’d really like to visit a dentist. Employer-provided health insurance, though, has proved elusive; her husband works in construction and Singley is a caregiver, piecing together part-time work from different employers.
“It’s like this dangling carrot that’s just unattainable,” she says.
That carrot appeared to get a little closer with the federal Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2014. But while 50 of 58 California counties have already launched optional “bridge” programs, covering more than 400,000 of the state’s previously uninsured, Monterey County officials are again pushing back an anticipated roll-out date for the temporary insurance called ViaCare.
The County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 23 directed Natividad Medical Center CEO Harry Weis and county Health Director Ray Bullick to complete a report on rolling out ViaCare. Post-meeting, Weis and Bullick did not respond to requests for comment emailed to a county spokeswoman.
The board’s direction came after Weis told the supervisors the failure of Prop. 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, would hurt Natividad’s budget, leaving cash flow concerns. (An anticipated Sept. 1 deadline for implementation came and went as the county waited for a U.S. Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, and for a decision on a proposed Natividad-Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare merger.)
The proposal calls for covering up to 1,500 eligible people who earn up to the federal poverty line of $23,050 for a family of four. With a 50-percent match from the feds, ViaCare would cost the county an estimated $6.5 million annually.
Neighboring Santa Cruz County capped enrollment Oct. 18 with 2,196 participants and a waiting list of eight. The county puts up $8 million (toward a $16 million program), and since launching its program, MediCruz Advantage, on Jan. 1, has seen positive results in terms of care and cost management.
“There aren’t any huge surprises,” Senior Health Services Manager Leslie Goodfriend says. “It makes sense for county hospitals to continue to enroll because they have to [serve people], so they might as well bring in that 50 percent.”
Singley joined a half dozen union members and faith community leaders Oct. 23 in urging the board to pick up the pace on ViaCare.
Singley plans to vote for Mitt Romney, in large part because health care reform looks like a sham to her: “If Obamacare is so darn great, why don’t they just go ahead and show us how great it is?” If ViaCare were implemented, she adds, she would reconsider voting for Obama.
This story has been updated to reflect the following correction. An earlier version stated Kathy Singley works part-time as a caregiver for an autistic man. She works full-time, with different sources of caregiver employment rounding out her work week; this still leaves her without enough hours to qualify for employer-provided health insurance.