Supervisors seek health care answers for county residents
From the first discussion of the day to the last, health care and its impact on the local economy dominated the Board of Supervisors meeting Jan. 22.
“I don’t have any charts, graphs or answers,” Supervisor Jon Kennedy said as he opened a discussion on health care insurance.
Kennedy wanted to address the topic because he said that during the budget process, the supervisors had “talked about cutting everything while we’re getting killed by insurance.”
With the cost of health care escalating, and the advent of the Affordable Care Act, Kennedy said, “Maybe it’s time to consider a plan moving forward.”
He turned to Public Health Director Mimi Hall for help.
Hall prepared a one-page overview of health care coverage and told the supervisors they could consider health care for their employees and for the county as a whole.
“Many, many counties have community-based health plans,” Hall told the board, and pointed to Siskiyou County as an example. Local leaders created Community Health Plan of the Siskiyous in 1994.
The plan’s goal is to bring affordable health benefits to local business owners and their employees.
Employers with two or more employees are eligible to participate in a plan that provides access to a variety of options.
“It’s locally governed,” Hall said, so health plan benefits are tailored to local residents.
Hall said that the Siskiyou model uses local doctors as the preferred providers so it keeps medical dollars local.
Another option could be an employer coalition, which would allow for a larger beneficiary pool, resulting in lower costs.
Hall said new solutions are necessary because employers are already struggling to pay insurance costs, which she described as the “single largest expenditure in an employer’s budget after wages.”
Another impending change is that more residents will be required to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Hall said that even residents who currently have insurance are often postponing care because of out-of-pocket costs. And their decisions to delay treatment impact the larger community.
Delays in accessing health care can impact the workforce because the individual may take longer to recuperate.
Local emergency rooms feel the increased workload when individuals avoid going to primary care providers.
Hall said that one in two personal bankruptcies result from serious health issues.
Because it’s a complex matter, Board Chairman Terry Swofford appointed Kennedy and Supervisor Kevin Goss to serve on a health subcommittee.
Skilled nursing cuts
Supervisor Kennedy is also busy fighting new state legislation that includes 10 percent cuts to hospital-based skilled nursing facilities.
Kennedy said that equals a “$2 million cut to Eastern Plumas Health Care.”
Kennedy met with the area’s state representatives to see if it would be possible to exempt small hospitals.
Additionally he contacted a lobbying firm that is now working with EPHC to form a coalition with other hospitals to fight the cut, which is scheduled to take effect in late spring.
“This is going to be a big deal,” Kennedy said, noting that not only will the hospital lose significant funding, but “42 people will have no place to go.”
Kennedy said that the loss could be enough to close the hospital.
“How can we attract people here if hospitals close?” asked Supervisor Lori Simpson.
Acting on the advice of Public Health Director Mimi Hall, the supervisors declined to write a letter of support for Blue Cross Anthem to be the state’s MediCal Managed Care provider for the region.
Hall said that both she and Social Services Director Elliott Smart were aware that the state had issued a request for proposals and that they had been contacted by other health care groups that wanted to be selected.
She cautioned against the supervisors supporting one group over another unless they had reasons they would want to do so.
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said she didn’t have enough information to make a decision.
“This isn’t personal at all,” Supervisor Kennedy told the Blue Cross representative in attendance, and suggested that the board write a letter of explanation for denying the request.