County gears for health care reform
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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors received an extensive report on health care reform implementation on Tuesday, Sept. 17, from multiple county departments and community partners. 

The report, the second of ongoing quarterly updates provided to the Board of Supervisors, focused on the receipt of a highly competitive grant, the impact of health care reform on the county as the largest employer in Sonoma County and the expansion of mental health and substance abuse treatment staff.

“There is still a lot of work ahead of us,” commented Chair of the Board of Supervisors David Rabbitt. “But we are ready to help 50,000 currently uninsured individuals get coverage through Covered California and Medi-Cal expansion, which will make a significant difference for families and the community. I think we are in a better place than many counties in the state.”

Efforts have focused on outreach and engagement with communities throughout the county. Board members noted many of the town-hall forums held in partnership with community organizations as well as federal officials. 

Enhancing these efforts is the award of a $100,000 grant from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, which will be used to fund improvement of the enrollment process at the County’s Human Services Department, outreach and enrollment through Redwood Coalition of Health Centers, and target outreach to eligible populations through website and mobile technology. “We are one of a few select governments to be awarded these funds,” said Director of Health Services, Rita Scardaci. “I think that shows great confidence in how well positioned we are to implement health care reform locally.”

Supervisor Shirlee Zane connected the day’s report to a long-term effort by the county, recognizing “our unwavering commitment to implementing this historic legislation.” She continued, “for many like me, it boils down to three words—no preexisting conditions. Former President Clinton stressed this as one of the most important aspects of healthcare reform.”  

Zane also praised the increase in staffing and services for mental health treatment and illness prevention. 

“Parity for mental health treatment should not be overlooked in all of this. I’ve fought for these services for a long time and health care reform provides a real opportunity to expand mental health treatment throughout this community,” she said.

The report concluded with information related to the county’s role in health care reform as a major employer. Primarily addressing the costs of providing health insurance for employees and the potential costs of current benefit packages, currently as high as $4.1 million under the “Cadillac Tax” provisions. 

The county’s Department of Human Resources is currently working with the county’s Joint Labor Management Committee to evaluate alternative benefit coverage options that would minimize these costs while continuing the county’s commitment to provide health insurance coverage for employees.

Enrollment into health insurance through the Medi-Cal expansion and state health insurance exchange, Covered California, is scheduled to begin in October, with coverage effective Jan. 1, 2014. 

County departments will provide another quarterly update, including additional information on the impact to local businesses, to the Board of Supervisors around that time.

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