Howard joining Kaiser initiative

The Baltimore Sun

In what he called "one of the building blocks" of a proposed health care plan for uninsured residents in Howard County, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson announced yesterday the county's participation in a program to provide up to two years of low-cost coverage for 175 county residents.

Kaiser Permanente will make available the health maintenance organization coverage to uninsured participants as part of the company's national "Bridge Plan," which is designed to help people left without insurance because of job loss, divorce "or some other life-changing event," said Derek A. Barnett, director of Kaiser Permanente's Community Benefit Division.

If more than 175 individuals or families enroll, the company will use a lottery drawing, said Beilenson, the county health officer. More details are to be released Monday during a news conference. It is the first small component of a plan that Beilenson and County Executive Ken Ulman said last week would offer affordable health care to all 18,000 to 27,000 uninsured county residents.

"I think we're kind of part of the puzzle" in achieving Howard's goal, Barnett said. Similar Kaiser programs are available in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and in Baltimore City, according to a Kaiser fact sheet.

He said the company, which has a medical center in east Columbia, is enrolling eligible people referred by the Howard County Health Department.

"We are doing a whole range of things to increase access to health care," Beilenson said. "We're tying this to our plan." In several weeks, he said, the county will unveil a part of the plan involving health care for up to 5,000 uninsured county children. Full details of the plan are to be released Oct. 16.

Participants would pay a portion of the Kaiser Permanente plan's cost, which can range from $19.35 a month for one person to $112.40 a month for families with more than three members, depending on income.

"The generosity of Kaiser Permanente has allowed us the opportunity to provide health care coverage to 175 working people in Howard County who might be in transition and without insurance," Beilenson said in a statement.

Howard is one of several local governments trying to expand affordable health care to those in need. One element in Howard's plan involves the participation of the Chase-Brexton Clinic, which is treating about 1,000 uninsured patients in Columbia. The plan also contains a preventive segment designed to lower treatment costs by promoting general good health.

San Francisco is experimenting with a similar plan, according to a Sept. 14 article in The New York Times.

Called "Healthy San Francisco," it is funded mainly by the city but is based on the same concept that Ulman and Beilenson have described -- diverting money in the health care system to pay for expanded primary care and prescription drugs for uninsured people.

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