‘Universal’ care vision starts small in county 

A plan that could improve health care access for tens of thousands of San Mateo County residents took its first step last week,as a pilot program serving the working poor enrolled its first member.

The pilot program, which will serve 2,100 people with complex, chronic health conditions, is considered a test run for the county’s ultimate goal — to provide affordable health care coverage to more than 40,000 adults living at or below a household income of $66,442 for a family of three.

"You only have to walk into the emergency room at San Mateo Medical Center and you’ll see the struggle of a working family in this county. It’s often middle-class people who can’t afford health care, and the numbers are increasing because employers are more and more often reducing their contributions. It’s why the county is aggressively looking for a solution to provide universal coverage," county Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

The plan is to offer a package of medical services at an affordable price to qualified employers and employees, and the creation of low-cost adult-health coverage plan through the county-controlled Health Plan of San Mateo. While the cost of the three-year pilot program is largely covered by $21 million in federal grant money, the challenge remains in how to pay for the $165 million expanded plan.

County officials estimate that nearly $90 million in costs will be covered by coordination of other low-income health programs and through state and federal money already received for indigent health care.

The remaining costs will be the shared responsibility of individuals, employers and taxpayers. The task force recommended that enrollees pay between zero and $100 a month, based on income, for access to improved care.

The amount paid by businesses, hospitals and citizens through a possible voter-approved sales tax or business-license fee increase is yet to be determined.

tbarak@examiner.com

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