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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Gavin Newsom does it again - Universal Health Care

When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom stood up for equal protection with his "Winter of Love" in San Francisco, the media camped outside City Hall. Now Newsom is pushing forward a plan to make his city the first in the nation to offer universal health coverage, but will the press cover this issue even though it is far more important for most people?

Newsom's San Francisco Health Access Program will over a comprehensive menu of health services to all of the 82,000 uninsured residents of the city (regardless of their immigration status). The plan sidesteps the terminally ill private health insurance system, where overhead is now 35 cents out of every dollar, in favor of direct services offered by city doctors and nurses and a collection of non-profit clinics and hospitals.

San Francisco is already spending more than a billion dollars a year on health care. But much of that money is misspent because very expensive emergency rooms are used to provide primary care services. Newsom's plan, developed with San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, will push money into community clinics where the uninsured can get preventative care and basic treatment. San Franciscans who join the plan would make co-payments based on their income level.

The plan is controversial politically, particularly with some members of the business community. But we all know Newsom is no stranger to controversy. He took on most of the city's establishment to fundamentally reform homeless care in the city -- and helped dramatically reduce homelessness. And we all remember he didn't blink when it came to fighting for equal rights for gay couples who wanted to marry. The fight isn't over in San Francisco. But if Newsom wins -- he will set a precedent for universal health coverage that should be an inspiration to Democrats who want bold action on pressing national issues like health care.

Here is the press release:


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced this morning a plan to provide healthcare for the city's estimated 82,000 uninsured residents.

The plan is not health insurance, because it cannot be used outside of the county of San Francisco, but it would provide a variety of medical services to participating San Franciscans.

The program, called the San Francisco Health Access Plan, seeks to give all San Franciscans access to health care services, especially primary and catastrophic care services, the mayor's office reported.

Medical coverage would include access to a primary physician, specialty medical services, urgent and emergency care, laboratory services, inpatient hospitalization services, radiology and prescription drug coverage, according to the mayor's office.

"Providing San Francisco's uninsured with high quality public and private health care is a top priority for me. I am pleased to receive the recommendations of this impressive council. This plan allows for every San Franciscan to have access to ongoing primary and preventative healthcare," Newsom said.

The cost of the program is an estimated $200 million, or $2,400 per person. The plan's emphasis on preventative care and the management of chronic diseases would minimize program costs, according to the mayor's office. Because the program is not technically health insurance, the plan can utilize state and federal reimbursements for enrolled patients, further helping to keep costs down.

Other sources of funding would include contributions from employers, individuals, and the city and county of San Francisco.

SF HAP is the result of four months of work by the Universal Healthcare Council, which was created by Newsom in February. The council was made up of representatives from the healthcare industry, as well as from business, labor, and philanthropic groups.

The council examined demographic and actuarial data and listened to community groups and employers to formulate the health care plan.

All San Francisco residents who are uninsured and are willing to apply for state and federal health benefits would be eligible for SF HAP. San Franciscans are eligible regardless of their employment or immigration status.

The healthcare services for the program would be administered by physicians and health care facilities under the San Francisco Health Plan network, the health plan sponsored by the city that provides care for 50,000 San Franciscans.

SF HAP is expected to be implemented in phases beginning in 2007.
If Newsom makes you proud to be a Democrat, give him a call at (415) 554-6141 and thank him.


Kvatch said...

As impressed as I am by this proposal, I have to wonder who Mayor Gavin has to get this by before it get's implemented. The City Council? If so, I'm not going to hold my breath.

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