Monday, August 07, 2006

Solano Sees No Need for Universal Care

Solano Sees No Need for Universal Care
By Andrea E. Garcia

FAIRFIELD - The need to provide health care access to the uninsured recently led San Francisco to create a universal health plan for its residents. Solano County, on the other hand, found a different way to tackle the problem years ago.

The genesis began in 1988, when California and its counties faced a major budget crisis that caused setbacks in the state's health care facilities. For Solano, a fragmented health care system hurt patients and providers.

More than 60,000 of the 370,000 residents in Solano County were uninsured while another 45,000 on Medicaid faced a decreasing number of physicians willing to treat them because of low reimbursement rates.

A collaboration of health care leaders in the county, including county administrators, CEO's of NorthBay Healthcare Group, Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Solano Medical Center, clinic administrators and Solano County Department of Health & Social Services led to the birth of Solano Coalition for Better Health, a nonprofit organization geared toward improving access to health care and the health of underserved populations.

"We've put a lot emphasis on getting anyone who is eligible enrolled in health care," said Patrick Hughes, executive director of the Coalition. "We've done it by really strengthening our clinic systems and by improving care for low income adults who don't qualify for Medi-Cal."

This idea of viewing health care collectively created a unique program among the counties in California, one that spawned a 50 percent drop in emergency room use, a 33 percent decrease in hospital inpatient days for Medicaid enrollees and a successful prenatal case management plan.

"We have the highest rate of insured people of all the counties in the state," said Dr. Rob Chapman, Solano County's deputy director of public health/public health officer. "Ninety-seven percent of all children (in the county) have insurance. And when they have access to medical care, they're healthier and don't miss school."

Currently, 8 percent of Solano County adults and 3 percent of children are uninsured, which makes Hughes believe the need of universal health care in Solano isn't really necessary.

"I would say given all the access to the health care we have and the very low percentage of uninsured, and while we could do, there really is not as great a need to do that," he said.

The county offers the Partnership Healthplan of California, which provides health care to Medi-Cal recipients; Solano Kids Insurance Program; the County Medical Services Program and Healthy Family.

"You want people to be healthy and when you delay care it's more costly," Hughes said. "It's all preventive maintenance."

Reach Andrea E. Garcia at 427-6953 or

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