A regional council of health experts believes it may have found a remedy to overcome San Diego’s rising health care woes.
A committee of 14 health care experts recently unveiled an eight-step plan that, if implemented, could cover as many as one-third of San Diego’s 600,000 uninsured, said Dr. Robert Ross, director of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency.
The project management committee, a panel of local health care experts and policymakers was formed by Ross in February to find ways to insure more San Diegans, according to Randy Mecham, special project’s coordinator for the county’s Health and Human Services Agency.
The committee’s report, published Oct. 7, reveals that one in five local residents are without health care coverage , one of the highest uninsured rates in the country.
If the report’s suggestions are followed, coverage will be extended to as many as 176,000 residents, said Ross.
The plan calls for offering tax breaks and premium subsidies to small-business owners who don’t offer health care benefits.
To make insurance more affordable for small-business owners, the committee also proposed to buy health insurance collectively.
Another solution would be to enroll more indigents in already existing programs, such as Medi-Cal (for low-income and poor people), and expand others, such as the County Medical Services (CMS) program, which delivers health care services to the poor mostly, through nonprofit community clinics.
A long-standing attempt by health care advocates for indigent people to get more of them signed up on Medi-Cal has been daunting.
“A large number of people don’t sign up, because Medi-Cal carries to some a welfare-type stigma,” said Greg Knoll, chairman of the committee and executive director of the Legal Aid Society.
Some 140,000 San Diegans currently are on the Medi-Cal roster, added Mecham.
Knoll and his peers are optimistic “aggressive outreach” will help boost Medi-Cal enrollment by 50,000 children and 32,000 adults.
Knoll and Mecham agree many obstacles must be overcome before the committee’s ideas even begin to take shape.
The committee estimates in the first year alone its plan would require some $142 million in state and federal funding; $15 million in county funding; and $8 million in voluntary employer contributions.
Knoll and Mecham also foresee challenges from the state Legislature.
In two weeks, the committee will face its first scrutiny at a public hearing from noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 25 before the Board of Supervisors at the county Administration Building.
Knoll hopes for a big turnout.
Once the public has made its recommendations, any revised options will be presented to supervisors in December or early January 2000, he said.
The earliest the committee’s recommendations could be implemented is 2001, Knoll and Mecham agreed.