San Mateo seeks health care plan

An initial foray into expanded health care coverage for uninsured, low-income adults in the county could be in the cards as early as this year, health officials said.

While sufficient funding to cover all 36,000 to 44,000 low-income, uninsured adults in San Mateo County continues to prove elusive, experts on Monday appeared to rally around a proposal that would have supervisors spend $22.5 million in state funds over three years to cover about 2,100 adults as a first step.

San Mateo County was one of ten counties to recently receive funding to evaluate untested medical delivery methods, which include closely managing patients with chronic diseases — typically the most expensive — said Maya Altman, executive director of the county’s Medi-Cal insurance manager Health Plan of San Mateo.

Under the proposal, the Health Plan would take on the oversight of uninsured care in the county, Altman said.

The cost to consumers to join the new health plan — which could operate similarly to a Kaiser plan — is expected to range from $25 to $100 a month plus co-pays, said S.T. Mayer, policy and program analyst for the county.

The expansion could take place as early as September and be the first to cover adults above what is required under state charity care laws, officials said. Current law burdens counties with the responsibility of providing charity care — usually by providing free or highly subsidized medical visits — to uninsured adults who make below 200 percent of the poverty line. Further expansion would follow as funds become available, Mayer said.

“The $7.5 million is going to be the seed money that we will use to fund those making 200 to 400 percent [about $34,000 to $69,000 for a family of three] of the federal poverty level,” said Supervisor Jerry Hill, a member of the county Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adult Health Care Coverage Expansion. In addition, the county plans a tiered system to include insurance that could be purchased by anyone, regardless of income, Mayer said.

While perhaps a notable beginning, covering all qualified residents would cost $75.5 million more than the county has been able to come up with, leaving it to phase in the program, Mayer said.

To find a solution, task force members, currently scheduled for a final meeting June 12, have requested an extension until the end of the year to weigh how employers, a sales tax, or local health care district might be encouraged to help fund the coverage plan.

In spite of widespread support at Monday’s meeting, task force members delayed a final vote that would send the $7.5 million expansion, along with its tiered insurance proposal, to supervisors until June 12.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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