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VENTURA COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Measure O Would Ease Burden of Caring for the Uninsured and Working Poor

October 29, 2000|MICHAEL D. BAKST | Michael D. Bakst is executive director of Community Memorial Hospital, primary proponent of Measure O

With all due respect, The Times is both shortsighted and wrong in supporting the politicians who are trying to defeat Measure O ("No on Measure O," Ventura County editorial, Oct. 15).

Let's start with the facts.

You say that Ventura County Medical Center provides about 90% of the care to the county's poor and uninsured. In fact, the county hospital treats only 54% of those who cannot afford care in Ventura County, according to data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. The remaining 46% are treated at seven nongovernment community hospitals.

You say that Measure O specifically prohibits Ventura County Medical Center "from receiving a dime" for providing this care. In fact, the county hospital receives about $42 million for providing care to its 54% of the uninsured. The nongovernment hospitals get $161,000 between them for treating the remaining 46%.

Increasingly, private hospitals and physicians are called on to treat a growing number of working families who do not have health insurance. They do so without reimbursement, and the patients' bad debt is shouldered by the hospitals and physicians.

Measure O would ease some of that burden by directing that Ventura County's share of the national tobacco settlement be spent on health care services that these hospitals and physicians provide to the uninsured and working poor.

Measure O would have no impact on the $42 million in current funding for Ventura County Medical Center. Moreover, the nonpublic hospitals have announced that they are willing to enter into a contract to reimburse the county hospital when it accepts the transfer of uninsured patients. That is more than the county supervisors have provided Ventura County Medical Center from the tobacco settlement funds.

The Times has been duped by politicians in Ventura County who are desperate to hold on to the tobacco money and prevent the people from deciding how it should be spent. In many ways, their arguments are reminiscent of Proposition 13, the landmark tax reform measure passed by voters in 1978.

Back then, the politicians said that if Proposition 13 became law, our schools would close, our county hospital would close and government "as we know it" would end. What really happened? Taxes were lowered and schools, hospitals and clinics remained open.

Today, the politicians are at it again, saying that if Measure O passes, public health programs and government as we know it would end. They're wrong, and The Times is wrong to accept their rhetoric.

Measure O is endorsed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which knows something about politicians and their rhetoric.

*

For the rest of us, the best way to understand Measure O is simply to read it. Here's the specific language that defines priorities for its use at our community hospitals:

"To avoid the waste or diversion of tobacco settlement funds for other non-health-related government purposes, this initiative preserves the funds for the exclusive purpose of assisting the delivery of services to meet the following health care needs of Ventura County:

1. Acute care programs and acute hospitalization to care for the elderly, the working poor, indigent and other nonpaying patients.

2. Nursing and unskilled in-home care services to the elderly who can be better served in their own homes.

3. Immunization against disease for children not otherwise eligible for coverage.

4. Nursing scholarships to maintain a needed level of nursing care throughout Ventura County.

5. To the extent that funds remain after meeting the health care programs above, for smoking prevention programs in school grades 7 through 12."

The full text of Measure O and further information about the campaign to Safeguard the Tobacco Funds for Healthcare are available at www.yesonmeasureo.com.

The Times may be content to blindly trust the politicians. Those of us who know better are voting yes on Measure O.

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