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County Hospitals to Require Proof of Residence

Emergency patients cannot be refused, but supervisors are working on details of plan to curtail treatment of others to save money.

June 04, 2003|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

Continuing its campaign to control the county's spiraling health costs, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to begin requiring proof of residence from most patients seeking treatment at county hospitals and health centers.

Full details of the new requirements are still being developed, but according to Thomas Garthwaite, director of the county's Department of Health Services, beginning in October, nonemergency patients at county facilities will be required to show rent receipts, utility bills, postmarked mail or some other proof of Los Angeles County residency.

The supervisors also voted to move toward curtailing the number of patients that private hospitals transfer to county-run hospitals to avoid paying for their care.

The residency policy is intended to save money by helping to ease the chronic overcrowding that plagues the county's health system. Garthwaite said, however, that it would probably save only "a few million" dollars a year and that patients who show up in public emergency rooms will still be evaluated and treated.

"We are mandated by federal regulations to see anyone who shows up in our emergency room and render them care," Garthwaite said.

The supervisors refused a request by union representative Kathy Ochoa to reject the rule changes until they could be "reconfigured" after discussions with Local 660 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents most of the county's 23,000 health-care workers.

Ochoa said the county had failed to meet with the union regarding the proposed changes, which she described as ambiguous.

"It's not even a half-baked idea, but rather a hodgepodge of ingredients for who knows what recipe," Ochoa said.

Of the 4% of uninsured county patients who voluntarily indicate where they live, "almost all" reside somewhere in California, Garthwaite said. But Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky dismissed Ochoa's suggestion that the county try to recoup some of its health-care costs from surrounding counties.

"Don't even bother with that. It's a wild goose chase," Yaroslavsky said.

County officials said that immunization and other public health programs, such as those dedicated to preventing the spread of communicable and sexually transmitted diseases, would not be affected by the new rules.

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