Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Four Sacramento area counties prepare for early test of Obama's health care overhaul


In one of the nation’s first tests of how Obama care will work for the uninsured, the Sacramento region of California will implement a slice of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

All four Sacramento-area counties are joining a program that will insure tens of thousands of residents who have been without coverage, more than a year before federal health care changes kicks in.

For county governments and health care providers, the Low-Income Health Program is a chance to get a head start and work out some of the kinks in a new and complicated system – one that must emerge by Jan. 1, 2014, but remains largely unformed.

For new patients, the plan could mean the difference between getting sporadic care in unfamiliar clinics (or simply staying sick), and having something that resembles full-fledged health insurance, paid for in county and federal dollars.

This program fills a void until the Federal Low Income subsidy program kicks in in 2014.

Short-lived as it may be, the program will help counties ramp up their systems of care.

By New Year's Day 2014, the federal law says, most adults with very low incomes must be eligible for Medi-Cal. But they can't get started overnight.

Counties first need to vastly expand their corps of doctors' offices that accept Medi-Cal, establish standards and payment systems, enroll patients, and educate them on how to use the new system.

There are many factors remaining to be seen. What will the reimbursement rates look like?  Will physicians accept the new plans? Where will the primary care doctors come from when there is already a shortage of PCPs?

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