Healthy Business

Dr. Anu Reddy and Dr. Sheilaja Mittal at Workwell Medical Group's occupational health clinic in Salinas plan to staff the new mobile unit. Mittal is also chief medical officer for the Sheriff’s Office.

It wasn’t quite as seamless as shopping on Amazon, but this spring, more than 8 million Americans bought insurance plans on the new healthcare exchanges, including Covered California.

That marketplace, though, was off limits to an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants nationwide, including about 30,000 in Monterey County.

Couple that with a looming Jan. 1 deadline for large employers to provide health insurance, and the insurance business is ripe for expansion.

One local clinic, Workwell, is experimenting with a new model: The company will contract directly with employers, effectively skipping insurance altogether.

Workwell Medical Group has operated two clinics in King City in Salinas for a decade. Husband-wife team Vikram and Sheilaja Mittal spent $200,000 on a bus in June, and plan to convert it into a mobile clinic. They’ve applied for nonprofit status for a foundation that will run the mobile unit. And they know full well their model might not work.

“We’re taking a huge risk,” Vikram says, “but this is going to happen anyway, so we might as well get out in front.”

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Workwell’s plan is to contract directly with agricultural companies, who will pay a flat fee—no obscure billing based on different procedures or plans. In exchange for the flat rate, the mobile unit will roll up weekly, and offer basic services to farmworkers.

“It doesn’t solve surgery or hip replacements but at least it’s a start,” Vikram says. “It all starts with primary care.”

Meanwhile Erik Larsen, healthcare organizer at the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, is doing outreach to the uninsured. His focus now: letting low-income people know they can enroll in a restricted version of Medi-Cal, regardless of immigration status.

“[The Workwell plan] sounds interesting,” he says, “but everyone deserves to have access to Medi-Cal if their income meets the standard.” 

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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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