County Approves Obamacare Bridge Coverage, Braces for Major Changes in Health
January 15, 2013
It took two years of patience and stop-and-go plans, but the county Health Department expects to launch a bridge plan next month that will provide coverage to some low-income residents waiting for Obamacare to kick in in 2014.
The County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve the county's low-income health plan, called ViaCare.
They approved a smaller program than originally proposed, with a planned budget of $3.3 million (down from $13.4 million for a more robust, and costly, program). People covered under ViaCare will roll over into Medi-Cal after the Affordable Care Act takes effect next year, but county health officials expect that by adding some 1,000 people to the insurance rolls now, they can phase in the impact of a surge in newly covered patients. (That's still just a fraction of the county's 90,000 uninsured residents.)
Under the approved plan, people who earn up to 100 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for ViaCare, and the county Health Department will start a waiting list; depending on costs, they may accept additional enrollees throughout the year.
Supervisor Lou Calcagno joined the board in a unanimous vote but pledged to watch where the money comes from: "Once it starts digging into the general fund, and the general fund becomes a health insurance plan, then I have different feelings about it."
Carlos Ramos, president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, spoke in support of ViaCare, but also expressed several reservations concerning the delay. "[The county] received funding over two years ago," he said. "We are extremely concerned about leadership in the health department."
County officials said they were waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court decision before moving forward.
Ramos also lamented a small turnout at Monday night's Health Department public listening session in Castroville, the first of five meetings to discuss questions and concerns with safety net health services. CSU Monterey Bay faculty who prepared an extensive report analyzing the county's capacity to support public health care presented to a tiny crowd of just about a half dozen people, most of them health care professionals.
The remaining meetings are 6-8pm Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the Health Department in Salinas; Monday, Jan. 21 at the Big Sur Grange Hall; and Thursday Jan. 24 at St. John the Baptist Church in King City.
A finalized ViaCare plan is due back to the board on Feb. 5 for final approval.