San Mateo supes move toward health plan

A pilot program to offer affordable health care coverage to 2,000 working-poor residents with complex, chronic health conditions was approved by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday — the first step in a vision to provide universal health coverage.

But even as a string of people lauded the county for an endeavor that could improve health care access for thousands, supervisors conceded that in order to expand their plan to the more than 40,000 qualified residents, they would need to secure the support of business owners.

The program stems from the preliminary recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adult Health Care Coverage Expansion, which were unanimously accepted by supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting. The 37-member task force, convened last year, sought ways to increase access to medical care for uninsured adults ages 19 to 64 living at or below four times the federal poverty level.

“There is a looming health care crisis in the country and San Mateo County is not immune,” said Supervisor Jerry Hill, who chaired the task force with Supervisor Adrienne Tissier.

The task force’s preliminary recommendations center on a package of medical services to be made available at an affordable price to qualified employers and employees, and the creation of low-cost HMO insurance through the county-controlled Health Plan of San Mateo.

The cost of the 2,000-resident pilot program will be underwritten through $7 million per year in federal funds over three years. The county will begin enrolling members around Sept. 1.

Eventually expanding the program should be paid for through a combination of state, federal and county revenue, private providers and employers, the task force found. New sources of revenue, such as a voter-approved sales tax, should also be explored.

The task force, which will reconvene in September or October, will conduct focus groups and survey local business leaders to gauge their interest in contributing to the plan.

“We have to figure out how to finance this model,” Tissier said. “It’s going to take the business community, it’s going to take the hospitals, and it’s going to take the county.”

Task force member Luisa Buado, CEO of Ravenswood Family Health Center, said the plan would ease the strain on hospital emergency rooms by focusing on preventive care for chronic illnesses.

The task force will issue its final recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in November.

Expanding health care

Among the preliminary recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adult Health Care Coverage Expansion:

» Establish an affordable coverage program for the 36,000 to 44,000 uninsured adults ages 19 to 64 in San Mateo County with household incomes at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

» Explore an insurance package offered through the Health Plan of San Mateo.

» Continue to finance care for the county’s indigent.

» Care for complex, chronic illnesses should be integral to the plan’s benefits.

» Plan should increase the use of primary-care physicians and decrease the use of emergency rooms and urgent-care facilities.

» Enrollees should pay between $0 and $100 a month, depending on income.

tbarak@examiner.com

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