ViaCare line

Monterey County residents lined up to fill out applications for ViaCare, a temporary health insurance program made possible by Obamacare, at Natividad Medical Center in 2012.

President Barack Obama made another national media pitch Wednesday for the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, with impressive figures on health insurance coverage released by the U.S. Census Bureau: The nation's uninsured rate is now at its lowest ever. 

But Obamacare leaves out undocumented immigrants, estimated to number about 55,000 in Monterey County. 

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve a pilot program to cover certain health care expenses for the undocumented, uninsured population, devoting $500,000 to pay for radiology, lab and prescription services. 

Natividad Medical Center, the county safety net hospital, will provide lab and radiology; five Walgreens locations countywide will fill prescriptions, then invoice the county Health Department. 

Those services will be paid for until the $500,000 runs out, at which time county health officials will evaluate whether clinical outcomes improved, and if it saved the county money. 

The supervisors weighed in with strong support for the pilot: "I'm one proud supervisor," Fernando Armenta said. 

And for Supervisor Simon Salinas, it's an exciting opportunity to lead the state: "I think it will help us convince our state legislators of the wisdom to…control health care costs that are escalating."

County Health Director Ray Bullick said that's part of the hope with this pilot project.

"There are programs in other counties, but none are doing a pre and post analysis like this," Bullick said. 

He's optimistic about gathering enough data to prove to state lawmakers that it's a worthwhile investment to pay for certain health care services for the uninsured, if the analysis shows the county ends up saving money by cutting back on emergency room visits and health clinic visits. 

"That's going to be a strong sales program for [state lawmakers] to move forward and get funding to the rest of the state," he said. 

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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