Mercury News: Monterey County care workers urge implementation of low-income health program

Monterey County home care workers filled the Board of Supervisors offices this past Tuesday (read the article below), yet there is still no official date to implement the much needed county healthcare plan, ViaCare.

For the past year and a half, Monterey County residents have been promised this vital service, ViaCare, which is similar to county healthcare plans which have been implemented in over 50 of California’s counties.

We are now urging the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to investigate the hold up for implementing ViaCare, and report on the “go live” date for the Monterey County Healthcare Plan.

Please join us by calling or emailing the Board of Supervisors at:
Phone: (831)755-5066

Expressing frustration at the slow pace of implementing a local low-income health program as a precursor to national health care reform, a group of long-term home care workers urged the Board of Supervisors to move ahead with the program Tuesday.

Led by Mario Torres, a member of the state executive board of the workers’ union, the group submitted a stack of petitions calling on supervisors to speed up the process of putting the program in place. Many workers would qualify for the program, and Torres said they are eager to see it up and running.

Torres said workers have been meeting with county officials since summer 2011 and have been repeatedly assured the program was close to being implemented. But it still hasn’t happened, even after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act and after the completion of merger talks between county-owned Natividad Medical Center and Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.

Torres said 50 of the state’s 58 counties have installed some version of the low-income health program, and about a half million state residents have enrolled.

The local program, ViaCare, is designed to offer temporary health coverage for up to 1,500 single adult residents who earn up to 100 percent of the federal poverty income level. The federally funded pilot program is intended to judge the county’s capacity for providing care to low-income residents, who often eschew seeking it until they end up in the emergency room, ahead of full implementation
Advertisement of health care reform in 2014.

An estimated 55,000 county residents will be eligible for health coverage through MediCal and health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

While the original plan called for the program to start March 1, Natividad CEO Harry Weis says that was an overly “aggressive” path, and suggested it may be another two months before ViaCare is ready to go. Weis said several county departments need to sign off on the program, which will require a county match of an estimated $6.5 million and has raised concerns about budget impacts.

“Since this is a large, complex program, we want to make sure everyone’s comfortable,” he said, calling ViaCare among the most complex county programs ever implemented. “It’s not intended to be a break-even (program), but it is intended to improve the situation.”

Erik Larsen, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, urged supervisors to break through “internal obstacles” to putting the program in place and move the process forward.

Supervisor Dave Potter, who serves on the Natividad board, said he met with long-term care workers a few weeks ago and expressed support for the program to county health officials. Potter aide Kathleen Lee said she was told Weis and county Health Department director Ray Bullick would be meeting next week to iron out the final details, including the funding implications for each department.
Lee said she believed the delay was not a result of a lack of support from supervisors or resistance from county departments.

Potter said he planned to ask for an update on the matter at Friday’s Natividad board meeting.

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