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10 counties expand medical coverage for low-income residents

Los Angeles County adds about 114,000 people to its Healthy Way program. The state hopes to enroll as many as possible before the federal government takes over the program in 2014.

February 18, 2012|By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times

Nearly two years before the federal health reform law kicks in, 10 California counties have expanded medical coverage to more than 250,000 people who were previously uninsured, according to new state data.

They are among 47 counties participating in the state's Bridge to Reform program, which provides health coverage for low-income residents and enables them to receive free care at their local public clinics and hospitals.

The new data show that the state has been aggressive in enrolling residents in advance of the federal overhaul, which will make millions more Californians eligible for Medi-Cal.

"The 10 counties have done a fabulous job reaching out to people who otherwise would not have access to healthcare coverage," said Jane Ogle, deputy director of healthcare delivery systems for the state Department of Health Care Services. Data on all of the participating counties will be available next month.

California counties can access up to $2.3 billion in federal funds for the program. Over the next two years, the cost of the coverage will be split between counties and the federal government. But in 2014, the federal government will begin providing 100% of the funding.

Local health officials hope enrolling new patients now will smooth the transition. "We really see this as a bridge to reform," said Peter Long, president and chief executive of the Blue Shield of California Foundation. "Counties have been really enthusiastic about enrollment."

Ten counties, including Los Angeles, began their expansion last July. Others started last month. Several of the remaining 11 counties are expected to begin the new coverage later this year.

Los Angeles County has signed up about 114,000 people for its program, known as Healthy Way L.A. The county is working to get residents connected to the county system so they won't leave for private providers in 2014, said Shari Doi-Hatcher of the county Department of Health Services.

"Because these folks will be Medi-Cal-eligible in 2014, they will have a choice of providers," Doi-Hatcher said. "We want them to continue to choose the county."

Counties also are working to improve care for the newly insured by assigning patients so-called medical homes, where they receive all of their healthcare.

The new data show that there were large numbers of people who couldn't previously access health coverage and care, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, a statewide consumer organization.

"This new effort is providing a lifeline to folks who otherwise wouldn't have it," he said.

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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