The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding key provisions of the Affordable Care Act is welcomed news for Alameda County, where we have already been advancing a program to expand health care access to thousands of low-income residents.
The need for reform is clear. Walk into any public hospital in the U.S. today, and you see a very different population than depicted on television shows like "E.R." You see not only the faces of the homeless, gunshot victims and migrant workers. At Highland Hospital, Alameda County's primary site for indigent emergency care, many patients work multiple part-time jobs and delay preventive care because they must choose between paying the doctor's bill and buying groceries.
For the nearly 50 million uninsured people nationwide, the act will provide a support system to aid in everyday survival. For those workers fortunate enough to have benefits, health care reform will also bring relief by leveling the playing field, bringing younger, healthier people into the system and reducing costs for all.
Health care coverage for a typical family of four under an employer-sponsored plan is expected to cost the employer and employee a combined $20,000 in 2012. That figure has risen more than 7 percent from 2011, according to projections by the consulting firm Milliman Inc.
Preventable conditions like diabetes affect patients' quality of life and also lead to emotional and financial burdens that are borne by families,
Even before the Supreme Court decision, in Alameda County, we had been implementing the "Bridge to Reform." This program provides people who will be eligible for MediCal (Medicaid) in 2014 access to public insurance now through the Low Income Health Program, called HealthPAC.
There are currently 75,000-100,000 Alameda County residents eligible for HealthPAC. These people are currently ineligible for MediCal, are younger than 65, have a family income that falls under twice the Federal Poverty Level and are able to verify citizenship or legal permanent residency for at least five years.
Since enrollment began in July 2011, 40,000 residents have signed up. Alameda County is partnering with community clinics, safety net hospitals, social-service agencies and churches to get the word out.
Alameda County's aggressive implementation of the act already has brought in more than $35 million in new federal money to fully fund HealthPAC. Continuing toward full implementation, Alameda County will receive even more federal funding to fulfill our mission of providing safety net services for those most in need.
Come 2014, Alameda County will be well positioned to focus on enrolling people who don't qualify for HealthPAC into the California State Insurance Exchange, where they can purchase their own health plan and access federal subsidies.
While the act is a step in the right direction, we must continue to advocate for a single-payer system in which all people have full health care coverage.
Saving employers money and keeping our residents healthy is not a liberal or a conservative issue. Don't we all want Americans to be healthy and prosperous? Don't we all want children to stay in school and workers to stay on the job?
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson represents the Fifth District, which includes Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Piedmont and parts of Oakland (North Oakland, Rockridge, Grand Lake, Fruitvale and Dimond districts.