County’s plan may insure adults 

The county’s once struggling low-income health plan could be tapped for expansion and become the lead local agency in a plan to provide affordable health coverage for uninsured adults, according to officials.

The Health Plan of San Mateo, which only a few years ago struggled with impending bankruptcy and closure due to funding problems, already manages services to the county’s 57,000 Medi-Cal patients, as well as providing insurance for the children of thousands of low-income families under the Children’s Health Initiative. County officials are now developing an insurance program that would also cover all uninsured adults.

Officials floated the idea of letting the existing plan handle the new program at Thursday’s meeting of the county’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Adult Health Care Coverage Expansion, which is charged with coming up with a solution the county’s uninsured health crisis by July.

"It’s very realistic because we could build on our already existing network," Maya Altman, executive director of the Health Plan of San Mateo, said Thursday. The plan has longstanding ties to the county’s low-income and uninsured populations, local hospitals and hundreds of private physicians, Altman said.

In spite of its recent financial struggles, the Health Plan has proven successful in its ability to pay higher-than-average reimbursement rates to physicians for services, while at the same time spending fewer Medi-Cal dollars compared with other counties, said Dr. Sang-Ick Chang, chief operating officer for the San Mateo Medical Center.

Efficiency like that, in the long run, could mean more affordable and comprehensive coverage for local residents who choose to participate in the insurance program, officials said.

While dwindling reimbursements from the state have threatened the Health Plan in recent years, uninsured adult coverage would bring in new monies from government, private employers and individuals, according to supporters including Supervisor Adrienne Tissier.

"In some respects [the Health Plan] is already a model, but the question would be whether it can handle the capacity," Tissier said.

According to the latest figures, 36,000 to 44,000 county residents could qualify for varying levels of health coverage.

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