COMMENTARY: An early look at health care legislation

Bill includes major financial aid to Axis Community Health, other clinics

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 have 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.

-Pleasanton Weekly staff.

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Posted by David Walden
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2010 at 8:44 am

I agree that reform is needed but if this plan is so good, why did Senators have to be bribed to vote for it. It is a shame that a bill cannot stand on its own merits and not have to take unrelated incentives to get the votes. I understand that this is the way of our political system but I do not agree that it is right.

I think we will see stories pop up from now on finding out how this or that congressman was bribed to vote for this legislation.

Like this comment
Posted by Educated
a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 29, 2010 at 8:51 am

"- 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 have caused many to turn down new job offers that meant changing insurance carriers."

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that this is rarely a problem with group coverage. Everything I've read says it's an issue getting individual policies, not group policies.

I've worked for several companies and had several different insurance carriers. I've never even been asked about pre-existing conditions when I enrolled. That's one of the standard features of group policies.

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Posted by Educated
a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 29, 2010 at 8:56 am

David, I totally agree with you. I keep waiting to find out what our own Jerry McNerney got for us. After all, he held out announcing his vote until the very end. Actually, my guess is that Pelosi was 100% confident that he would vote "yes" and that his delay was just a tactic to make his somewhat conservative constituents think that he really considered both sides of the issue.

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Posted by PleasValley Res
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Mar 29, 2010 at 9:06 am

Educated: I belong to a group policy and they do ask about pre-existing conditions. The rep had asked if I had any of a number of certain conditions and when I started to respond, answered "no, you do not have any of these conditions." This happened twice! While I'm grateful that the rep was acting in my best interest, it tells me that there are those guidelines that they are supposed to follow. If they had mentioned my autoimmune disease, maybe I would have been dropped?

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Posted by Dominic
a resident of Del Prado
on Mar 29, 2010 at 9:36 am

This is a biased commentary only spinning the perceived benefits of this disastrous healthcare bill...We need healthcare reform, we don't need it this way...Obviously in a bill that is over 2000 pages, there ought to be some good things in it...In my view, the bad things far outweigh the good...

Shame on the Pleasanton Weekly for posting a commentary that is not telling the whole picture just the benefits...Seems the PW hs become another instrument of our social democrat's party...That is govern the people by the government, not representative of We The People…

How about informing the people on how this bill may affect R&D in the healthcare industry...It is a fact that few if any life extending innovations, life-savings drugs are introduced from countries that various forms of universal healthcare...These innovations primarily come from America today where innovation is created by less not more government---what will happen now to healthcare R&D that our highly efficient government is involved with our healthcare…PW how come you are not reporting on the last time major changing legislation was passed by our government with NO BI-PARTISON support? Support within the Social Dem party had to be coerced and bribed…

As for Mcnerney, if this is so good, why didn't he and the rest of congress vote this in for themselves?

Trust me, we (the people) will take America back and it will begin this year locally as we get rid of McNerney who cares more about his stature among his party’s leadership than he does about his community…

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Posted by Educated
a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 29, 2010 at 10:42 am

PleasValley Res:
The bottom line is that you got insurance. My guess is that the insurance company wanted that info for some purpose other than potentially denying coverage. I really doubt that the reps would risk their jobs by ignoring the questions, which is what they would have been doing if those questions were used to deny coverage.

In one job as the controller of a small business, I was somewhat involved in the selection of insurance providers and the administration of benefits. Even though there were less than 100 people covered by the policies, I never heard any mention of exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

There were pre-existing condition exclusions however for dental policies. But dental and medical insurance are very different, since most dental problems can wait a few months to be fixed. It was very common for people to only carry dental insurance every other year. During the year they had coverage, they'd get their check-ups and have any work done. It doesn't take a genious to know that is not how insurance is supposed to work. But alas, allowing such behavior is written into the new "healthcare" law.

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Posted by Love Ptown
a resident of West of Foothill
on Mar 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Wow let's all think about ourselves and forget the impact that no healthcare for others has on our healthcare for a minute. Let's also think about how we've given so much control to the Insurance companies that go unregulated and make billions, while human beings are left to die! I've been very fortunate to have healthcare, but does that mean that I should be against this bill if it can help others that don't. I have children who will get extended healthcare. I've had pre-existing conditions while my husband's insurance denied me for being pregnant. Without regulation the insurance companies can do whatever they want and collect as much as they want. Be gratefuly you have insurance and put yourself in someone elses shoes who doesn't! What would you be wishing for then.

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Posted by Tossed aside kid
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

The PW slight of hands...just focus on the several the 3 line items at the top. All three could have been easily passed a year ago on a single page. We all know those 3. NOW, let's look at the other 2000 pages, the majority of which is primarily costly, unneeded, and/or bad for us. All that is rarely mentioned by the politically biased ! How insulting to try to ignore the 2000 pages.
HOW and WHY would college loans be tucked in a "health care" bill ! It removes college aid for middle-class families. It DOES increase funding by tens of $$ BBillion for Pell Grants (gifts) for poor. Pell GRANTS allow family earnings up to $50K...89% of recipients earning under $ 40K. That must be intended for Cleveland & Memphis. They are using NATIONAL charts for limiting & elimination student loans. NATIONALLY $110k is called rich. In high COL BAY AREA, $110, is very basic middle...PAY for everything, get NOTHING.What about all the Bay Area families with couples totaling $120K being called too rich to be eligible for college loans..CAL charging those RICH over $80k, A $25k TUITION !!!. Yet poor and/or minorities get free rides, loans, or grants. What about all those math & science students the country needs. Sad there were zero Bay Area Reps, that tried to help giving hi COL NoCal exemption from the National CHARTS for podunk. That's the problem with socialist concepts of treating all equal...see the big falicy. Bay Area middle-class kids are NOT being treated equally....they are being TOSSED ASIDE. How UNfortunate for them to be in 2 parent working families, working on REDUCED pay, with a home worth less than their good fixed rate loan...,NOT part of the REfi piggy-bank crowd. The kids lesson is.... don't be a sucker and work to provide for yourself....much better to NOT perform ..just live off others . Are they ANGRY???YOU BET ! Nobody to consider NoCal kids, and the government meddles in taking away REAL average student loans. Where was the PW or media in info sharing? NOW you want to leap into the discussion...Thanks for nothing.

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Posted by Educated
a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 29, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Love Ptown,
I think we all can agree that the current healthcare system needed to be changed. What we disagree on is the best way to do it.

What we really need is to reduce costs. Taxing insurance companies (even the non-profit ones like Kaiser), taxing medical device makers, adding 159 federal commissions and boards, making it financially beneficial for healthy people to wait until they're sick to get insurance, taking away lifetime caps, and more provisions of this bill all INCREASE costs. If you've been watching the news the past week, you're well aware of that.

So how do we DECREASE costs? We make the costs more transparent to the users (you and me) by encouraging things like medical spending accounts coupled with catastrophic insurance. And we increase competition by allowing insurance purchases across state lines. And we give people who purchase their own insurance the same tax advantage as those who get it through their employment. And we put some limits on malpractice suits.

Yes, we also need controls to keep insurance companies from dropping people after they get sick, and to allow people with pre-existing conditions to get insurance. (But after we correct current inequities, the requirement should only be in place for people who have been continuously insured for a specified period of time and for young children. I'm sure you've heard the analogy of waiting until your house is on fire to get fire insurance. That isn't how insurance is designed to work.)

There are lots of good ideas out there. Unfortunately, the democrats weren't willing to listen to anyone but themselves. Even the ideas that Obama admitted were good ideas in the "healthcare summit" were left out of the final bill.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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