By JIM JOHNSON
Staff Writer, Monterey County Herald
SALINAS, CA – June 18th, 2012 – Three months after the first low-income residents signed up for temporary county health coverage, the program is being expanded.
On Tuesday, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved expanding ViaCare's eligibility to include those earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, an increase from the program's initial level of up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
The program, which kicked off in March, is designed to offer temporary health coverage for uninsured low-income residents until full implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act in 2014.
Shortly after the board's approval, labor and advocacy organizations held a rally with the supervisors in attendance to laud the move.
Natividad Medical Center CEO Harry Weis said the expansion would better help county health officials set up a "clear and straight path" to communicating with uninsured county residents, a "significant step" toward getting coverage for an estimated 27,000 residents who will qualify for MediCal. Weis said the expanded eligibility more closely matches MediCal guidelines.
Weis said county officials determined the program could be expanded because of the "very modest pace of interest" and lower-than-expected costs. He said 1,141 people had applied for ViaCare and 815 had been accepted. Weis suggested in a staff report that the program was averaging about $300,000 in costs per month, well below initial estimates.
A program spending report said $947,216 had been spent on ViaCare, including estimated expenses from last month, with more than half of that going to behavioral health treatment. A quarter was spent on hospital care, 5 percent went to physicians and the remainder was spent on administrative and other costs.
Supervisor Jane Parker said the report indicated participants were "using the (health care) system responsibly." Parker said she still had questions about why so much of the program's spending was focused on behavioral health, which she suggested was unexpected.
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