Yolo County’s collaborative spirit was on display this week when representatives of local government as well as public and private health care providers gathered in Woodland for a daylong forum on implementing the Affordable Care Act.
The sweeping federal health care reform law — enacted more than two years ago — is expected to bring affordable health insurance to millions of currently uninsured Californians, including many of the 26,000 uninsured residents of Yolo County.
Wednesday’s forum, hosted by CommuniCare Health Centers and sponsored by Sierra Health Foundation, brought together about 50 people who will have critical roles in implementing the law locally.
“How health care reform looks in Yolo County depends on all of you,” said keynote speaker Peter Long, president and CEO of the Blue Shield of California Foundation.
“Health care reform is not self-implementing,” he noted, adding that much of the work required to make it happen has been held up in the political and legal battles that have taken place in the last two years.
“There are a lot of divergent views (and) loud and unproductive rhetoric that has distracted us from the work ahead,” he said.
But the good news, he added, is that Yolo County is in a pretty good starting position.
“You have a history of getting stuff done,” he said. “It’s a good environment to be in.”
Long commended the county Board of Supervisors, in particular, for its efforts.
One former supervisor on hand — Helen Thomson of Davis — remarked that “it’s very exciting to see the progress we’ve made in Yolo County working together. We’ve done some very good work here.”
Indeed, California as a whole has made more progress than other states, becoming the first in the nation to establish a health benefit exchange. Known as Covered California, the state-run exchange will help California residents and small businesses shop for and buy affordable health insurance starting in 2014.
Sara Soto-Taylor, deputy director of community relations for Covered California, estimated that 9,000 Yolo County residents will be eligible for the program.
Outreach is underway throughout the state to find and inform those eligible for participation in the exchange.
Meanwhile, another sizable segment of Yolo’s uninsured are being enrolled in Medi-Cal, thanks to the state’s decision to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. Among those benefiting for the first time will be many childless adults.
Liz Gibboney, deputy executive director and chief operating officer of Partnership HealthPlan of California — which provides managed care for Medi-Cal patients in Yolo County — said currently about half of Yolo County’s 202,000 residents are covered by private insurance; one-fourth are covered by Medi-Cal or Medicare; and the remaining are uninsured and/or undocumented.
But even as many more Californians acquire health insurance under the law, many others will continue to go without, Long noted.
“A lot of folks are going to get coverage,” he said, “but there also are going to be a lot of people uninsured.”
Among them could be the between 11,000 and 12,000 Yolo County residents who are undocumented and uninsured.
But even if all those eligible under the new law are enrolled in insurance plans or Medi-Cal, access will remain an ongoing concern.
“Just because you have a health insurance card doesn’t mean you have access to care,” Long said.
In Yolo County, with its large immigrant population and many residents living in remote, rural areas of the county where there are no health clinics, transportation alone remains a big issue, health care providers said at the forum. Then there are the language, cultural and financial barriers.
According to the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, 75 percent of California’s uninsured are minorities and more than one-third speak little or no English. Two-thirds are Latino and more than half are living at 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Learn more about the state’s new health benefit exchange at http://www.coveredca.com.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter @ATernusBellamy