The budget axe has fallen in Yolo County, and health care programs for the indigent are on the chopping block.
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve cuts to the Yolo County Healthcare for Indigents Program (YCHIP) in order to address the health department’s $1,600,000 deficit.
After much debate, the board voted to approve the recommended health services cuts by a 3-2 vote, an action that is expected to save YCHIP $1,500,000 in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
The recommendations made by Yolo County Health Officer Joseph Iser were aimed at closing the county’s overall health budget gap.
One would eliminate as covered services the Medi-Cal optional benefits to Yolo County indigents, which include dental, vision and chiropractic services.
Another would implement a share of cost of $1.00 for each $1.00 exceeding the Medi-Cal minimum need level based on the family size of YCHIP membership.
The final recommendation limits the specialty provider reimbursement to 100 percent of the current Medi-Cal fee schedule, and cutting YCHIP services to undocumented residents, requiring a minimum of 15 days of residency before applying for YCHIP.
Specifically, it would demand some form of documentation to prove residency, such as a driver’s license for legal residents or a birth certificate showing citizenship.
There would also be cases where the health services would waive the need for documentation, such as cases of serious health concern where public health is endangered, or cases of serious concern, like tuberculosis.
“The economic situation has not improved, it’s gotten worse,” Iser said.
The changes take effect July 1.
In the previous meeting, the board discussed their concern over the recommendations, wondering how many people would be specifically impacted from the changes.
The county estimates that 1,200 people would be impacted as a result of the cuts from the 2,500 currently served.
Supervisors Mike McGowan and Helen Thomson both talked with county health care providers in the week prior to the meeting to try and find an alternative to the cuts, yet the talks came up empty-handed.
“Health care providers talked among themselves and there was no ability to come to any conclusion that would steer us from the recommendations made from the department,” Thomson said.
Thompson felt that the cuts could not be avoided. After hearing the testimony, she said that although the changes were only a “plug in the dyke,” they were changes that needed to be made.
Yolo County residents got an opportunity to voice their opinion on the issue at hand as well and several individuals were present to represent various groups.
Will Lauder came to represent the Yolo County Interfaith Immigration Network, which is opposed to eliminating health care for the undocumented. Lauder said that as a Yolo County resident for sixty years, he felt that removing the benefits would cause “tremendous stress and fear in the immigrant community.”
Rick Gonzales, president of the Mexican American Concilio of Yolo County, also spoke and said that as an agricultural county, Yolo hires a large population of undocumented workers. He denied the claim that Yolo County would be impacted by undocumented people coming to Yolo for their health care benefits as a result of Sacramento’s decision to require documentation for health services as well.
“No way,” he said. “They might come for a job, but they’re not gonna come for health services. Most won’t even come to the health clinic if this comes to pass.”
This echoes a similar fear held by board members Jim Provenza and Duane Chamberlain, both who voted to oppose the passing of the recommendations.
Provenza said that in the short term the recommendations appear to be the best solution given the economic problems YCHIP faces, yet the cuts would be more costly in the long run.
“It is a mistake to deny [the undocumented] indigent health care benefits. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall. If there’s one segment of the population not getting care at all, we risk a calamity in the future.”
Provenza suggested an extensive search of the Yolo County budget.
He said, “I think we can find things that are less of a priority in the budget.”
ANA QUIROZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.