Countdown to heath reform

Big change expected with law’s 2014 start
Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino, Staff Writer
Created: 08/01/2010 07:02:46 AM PDT

Having health insurance was not a priority for Andres Hernandez.

But worn down by flulike symptoms, the Ontario resident had to bite the bullet and get checked by a doctor on Friday at Inland Empire Community Health Center in Bloomington.

“It didn’t scare me before, but as I was getting sick, I was worried I’ll have to go to a hospital,” he said. “And that would cost more.”

Hernandez is not alone. A quarter of Inland Empire’s working-age residents are not covered by any health insurance plan, government-sponsored or private. Health care reform, set to take effect in 2014, will bring those numbers down, experts suggest.

“You have a huge gap from 19 to 65,” said Melanie Talbert, the health center’s administrator.

“They have no insurance, and there are no programs that you can refer them to. We can always get kids into something, but adults, that’s our challenge.”

According to the Census Bureau’s 2007 Small Area Health Insurance Estimates, 319,887 San Bernardino County residents ages 18 to 64 do not have health insurance – roughly 25 percent.

Los Angeles County’s labor pool treads in similar waters – out of 6.2 million working-age individuals, 1.7 million are not insured.

Although Hernandez has a full-time job with Wells Fargo bank, the position is a temporary one and does not come with health insurance benefits.

The trip to the doctor cost him $20, not including lab fees or medication. The relatively low fee was possible through the clinic’s “sliding scale,” which uses a patient’s income to determine charges.

More than 60 percent of the clients that frequent the clinic pay reduced prices, Talbert said. The premiums are subsidized by a federal grant the clinic was awarded as well as various county funds.

Besides uninsured nonelderly adults, about 90,000 children in San Bernardino County and 307,000 children in Los Angeles County did not have health insurance in 2007, according to a survey conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

San Bernardino County’s spending on medical coverage totaled $131 million in 2007, while Los Angeles County paid out more than $724 million.

County funds are derived from several sources, including the vehicle license fee, Proposition 99 funds and tobacco settlement payments, said Kiwon Yoo, a director of research at Insuring The Uninsured Project, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on health reform and the uninsured in the state.

Come 2014, the number of uninsured “will go way down,” said Clifford Sarkin, ITUP’s policy director.

The Obama administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, set to kick in on Jan. 1, 2014, will expand mandatory Medicaid eligibility to all individuals under age 65 with incomes up to 133percent of the federal poverty level based on modified adjusted gross income.

“A big chunk of folks who were never eligible for Medi-Cal will now have insurance,” Sarkin said.

The state’s Department of Health Care Services estimates that about 851,000 uninsured children and adults will become eligible for Medi-Cal coverage in that income bracket.

To read entire story, click here.