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U.S. Offers Health Bailout

But the initial proposal of $150 million falls far short of what's needed, county officials say.

November 02, 2002|Charles Ornstein and Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writers

Federal health officials have proposed giving Los Angeles County $150 million to bolster its ailing health-care system -- an offer that falls far short of the $1.4 billion requested to avert massive cuts, county officials said Friday.

But federal authorities stressed Friday that negotiations are not over and that no agreement had been reached.

The $150-million offer would not be enough to prevent the closing of two full-service public hospitals -- Harbor-UCLA and Olive View-UCLA medical centers -- according to a memorandum sent Friday by the L.A. County health department to county supervisors' deputies.

About $50 million of the federal money would come from a long-delayed lawsuit settlement with private hospitals over reimbursement rates. The remaining $100 million would come out of a program that gives extra money to California hospitals that care for the poor, the memo said.

Tom Scully, the federal official in charge of Medicare and Medicaid, plans to visit L.A. on Wednesday to tour Harbor-UCLA and other public hospitals. He also plans to meet county officials to discuss their requests for help.

A day before Scully's visit, county residents will vote on a ballot initiative that would raise property taxes to pump $168 million in new money into the county's emergency and trauma-care network. If Measure B is approved Tuesday, the owner of a 1,400-square-foot home would pay about $42 more annually.

County supervisors said they hope Scully is coming with an open mind. Some said that, if he has settled on $150 million in one-time funding as his final offer, he might as well stay home.

"We are not interested in one-time money. It's not a solution to our problem -- it basically delays the inevitable," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "If anybody believes a one-time check is going to solve our problems, he is sadly mistaken."

Supervisor Mike Antonovich agreed that more federal and state money is needed. But he said the county also needs to dramatically overhaul its public health system.

"I would doubt any federal official who would offer $150 million -- it would be an embarrassment to make such an irresponsible suggestion," he said.

Supervisor Don Knabe, however, said the county "is looking for dollars to save lives, and we should take them as we can get them."

Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, the county's director of health services, said he is optimistic that the county can secure more long-term help.

"We put forward an offer they thought was way too much," Garthwaite said. "They came back with an offer that we think is way too little.... We obviously would like to get as much money as we can, because we see a tremendous need here."

Also Friday, Knabe reversed his opposition to Measure B, calling it a necessary step to avert disastrous cuts to the county health-care system.

In July, Knabe and Antonovich voted against putting the initiative on the ballot. At the time, Knabe said the measure lacked important fiscal safeguards.

Knabe said his change of heart was, in part, in response to the board's 4-1 decision Tuesday to begin the closing of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, a step taken over his objections.

He said he hoped the tax would give the county breathing room and offer a chance to save the center.

Antonovich remains opposed to Measure B and drafted the ballot arguments against it.

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