Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - March 26, 2010

Editorial

An early look at health care legislation

While the country continues to sort out the details of the Health Care Reform bill that was passed by Congress last Sunday and signed into law last Tuesday, several groups are already singing its praise for the help it could bring to thousands in Pleasanton and the Tri-Valley with little or no health insurance. Some of the provisions happen right away. Children can now stay on their parents' insurance until their 27th birthday, a big help for those who have seen their coverage vanish when they turned 23 and were still in college or had yet to find employment with medical benefits. Insurers also will be barred from imposing exclusions on children with pre-existing conditions, a major problem for parents with children who have health problems that has caused many to turn down new job offers that meant changing insurance carriers. Lifetime limits on benefits and restrictive annual limits also will be prohibited.

There are more benefits from the health care legislation that take place this year and in 2011, although many of its core provisions are scheduled to occur much later, some not until 2018. Still, what's available now and in the not-too-distant future is already boding well for struggling health care organizations. Axis Community Health, for one, with its main offices in Pleasanton but also serving Livermore and Dublin, should benefit from two parts of the bill: funding for patient services and care, and facility improvements.

The health care reform measure includes $11 billion in funding for community health centers, such as Axis. This provision finally recognizes at the federal level the incredible work Axis and other clinics do. As a designated center, Axis serves those who are low income and uninsured. This year, Axis will see its patient load increase to 12,000 who don't have the ability to pay for insurance on their own, a number that is growing by 300 new patients every month. Many in this category never go to Axis, mostly because they don't know of the services it provides. When they become seriously ill, they turn to the emergency rooms at ValleyCare Medical Center or even the county hospital, receiving care for advanced illnesses that is more expensive than preventive care at Axis would have been. When the health care provisions of this bill are implemented, and no one is yet sure when that will happen, Axis expects to have its patient load increase to 18,000 to 20,000 individuals, including those who now can receive preventive care without having to add to the cost and burden at hospital emergency rooms.

Just as exciting for Axis is another part of the legislation that includes $1.5 billion to health center construction. Axis' Railroad Avenue facility is old and inadequate. In adding services, such as behavioral health programs, Axis has had to rent space distant from its main offices. It just moved its finance department to another office building because of overcrowded conditions and the need to convert the finance space into a medical care area. Axis receives financial help from the state and Alameda County, but these funds are mostly depleted. Axis CEO Sue Compton reports that both state and county funds are completely depleted for this fiscal year, forcing Axis to search for other funding to serve those who are now on long waiting lists for health care.

Although the specifics of the health care legislation are slowly tricking in, another concern should be how to disseminate this information. Most of us have followed the months of debate over the health care bill and probably have some sense of what Congress approved, even if we haven't read all 2,700 pages of the bill, itself. But there are many in our community who are in the dark. They're here legally, have green cards, may be citizens, but they don't speak English. As the details are publicized, Washington and local resources need to get their messages to these groups, utilizing Spanish language or Asian news outlets, schools and various cultural organizations such as the Afghan Women's Health organization in Pleasanton. We need to make sure that those who need the benefits of the new health care legislation the most also have our community's help in receiving it.

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