Supes talk health care reform planning

Grant Scott-Goforth


The Humboldt County board of supervisors heard a presentation Tuesday, Jan. 29 laying out local changes that are expected to take place with the enactment of national health care legislation.

Health and Human Services legislative analyst Nancy Stark told the board that many provisions in the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act go into effect in 2014. California's Medi-Cal program will expand, Stark said, becoming available to anyone below 138 percent of the national poverty level.

That equates to an approximate yearly income of $32,000 per year for a family of four, or $15,000 per year for an individual.

Stark estimated that 7,000 people in Humboldt County will become eligible.

Taking on the additional costs of enrolling and administering Medi-Cal could go one of two ways, Stark said: county-based or state-based management.

Stark said the California State Association of Counties has warned that county management means more risk, responsibility and higher costs for county governments - potentially without extra resources. Many elements remain unknown, Stark said, including how many people will enroll and how fast.

The California State Legislative Analyst's Office has recommended delaying permanent changes in county practices until the effects of health care reform are more clear, Stark said.

She said county Health and Human Services will continue to communicate with the board as the issue develops. _

In the meantime, the department is preparing for an influx of Medi-Cal recipients with an early enrollment program, and community partnerships with health care providers in the county.

A service center designed to increase efficiency recently opened, with a staff of 20 answering around 380 calls per day, Stark said. "The need is certainly there in our community, and this is a more efficient way to handle it," she said.

Open Door Community Health Center's chief executive officer Herrmann Spetzler spoke during public comment, saying it was a "pivotal tipping point" to organize health care in Humboldt County.

"The county-organized health system is our opportunity to make sure we are a part of the decision-making process," he said, adding that the way health care is organized will likely last 30 to 40 years.

The board approved a letter of support for a county-organized health system to the California Health and Human Services Agency secretary. Humboldt County residents can find out more about Medi-Cal eligibility by calling 877-410-8809.