New Proposal For Free Healthcare in the Works at City Hall
Mayor's plan ideal for students, low-income residents
March 6, 2006 6:00 PM
San Franciscans who can’t afford health insurance may soon be covered, thanks to a new proposal by mayor Gavin Newsom. Planners hope to solidify the project within three months.
“It’s universal healthcare based on access,” said Jennifer Petrucione, a deputy communications director and speechwriter for the mayor’s office.
Whether or not the program will require a vote from the board of supervisors will depend on details that are still being decided.
According to Petrucione, the program will be available to all uninsured San Francisco residents who have some income limitations. Residents who are eligible for other federal and state programs, residents who are eligible to receive benefits through their employers, and people who do not live in San Francisco will not be eligible to receive benefits under the new program.
Petrucione also said the universal healthcare proposal will not take into consideration the number of hours applicants work, making it ideal for students who cannot work lots of hours per week while attending classes.
Although details about the program’s funding have not yet been ironed out, the current idea is that it will be funded through better management of existing healthcare funds. Also, like actual health insurance, members of the program will have a co-pay, though the amount has not yet been determined.
“There are still a lot of questions to answer,” said Petrucione.
Dr. Alastair Smith, medical director of the Student Health Center at SF State, said lack of health insurance is a big problem with students, and that universal healthcare in desperately needed in San Francisco.
“It would be lovely if we could get it,” said Smith.
According to Smith, about 60 percent of SF State students do not have medical insurance. While uninsured students can use the Health Center for services such as routine checkups, students often require more expensive attention, such as lab tests, which can become cost prohibitive for the uninsured.
“Obviously, it would be much better if they could have insurance,” he said.
Smith said he feels that universal health care that is accessible to students would enhance student retention and boost the number of graduates, since students frequently drop out of school to pursue full-time employment.
San Francisco geriatric physician Dr. Michael Hartnett said the plan sounds like a good idea, as long as required paperwork is kept to a minimum.
“It will work if they can keep bureaucrats out,” Hartnett said. “Otherwise it will turn into a Medicare fiasco.”
San Francisco already has a healthcare program for young people in effect, “Healthy Kids and Young Adults,” but uninsured youth can only benefit from this program until they reach the age of 24. Under the new proposal, San Franciscans who cannot afford insurance will have access to healthcare, regardless of age.
Petrucione said the new healthcare proposal would be very different from what is already in effect. In addition to being accessible to San Franciscans of all ages, the new program will actually mimic insurance. Beneficiaries of the program will be issued a card that they will use in place of an insurance card, which will track the program participant’s medical activity, enabling participants to have a primary care provider. Under the current program, no such tracking exists.
Petrucione said many young people do not have health insurance because it is costly, and young people have relatively few health problems. Unforeseen events, such as accidents and sudden illness, can add up to long-term, substantial medical debt for the uninsured, which is what the proposal intends to address.
“A burst appendix costs around $50,000,” she said. “This plan will take care of you if you experience a catastrophic event.”
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