There are 51,000 residents who have no private or employer-provided health insurance, Andrea Bowers, an Imperial County Public Health Department administrative analyst, said.
But by law, California counties are considered the health-care provider of last resort for residents age 18 or older who cannot afford care, she said.
“Imperial County is one of 34 counties designated to provide medical indigent care through the state’s County Medical Services Program,” Bowers said. “CMPS counties contract out for the program which consists of benefits similar to Medi-Cal.”
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Since 1966, Medi-Cal is the state’s public health insurance program which provides needed health care for the low-income. Imperial’s CMPS is limited to residents between ages 21 and 64 with income at or below the federal poverty level that was $22,000 per year for a family of four in 2009.
But Imperial County also offers other assistance programs, Bowers said. Healthy Families Program provides insurance for children under 19. There is also the Child Health and Disability Prevention Program for children under 19 in temporary (60 days) with no-cost Medi-Cal at the time of an assessment. Then there is Access for Infants and Mothers low-cost care for pregnant women. And finally, there is Medical Tuberculosis Program.
Even the state’s public hospitals are obligated to care for the uninsured under the Emergency Medical Treatment Active Labor Act, Aaron McDaniel, El Centro Regional Medical Center director of patient accounting and patient access, said. It requires all hospitals to treat patients without regard of ability to pay, he stressed.
“We have to provide stabilizing treatment but some cases are beyond our ability to treat them because we are not a level one trauma center,” McDaniel said.
For some serious injuries, such as an auto accident, patients may have to be transferred to another facility such as Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, one of the closest alternative care units, McDaniel said.
There are also outpatient clinics where the uninsured may be referred, he added. The El Centro outpatient and the Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo offers nonlife threatening health care.
Meanwhile, El Centro Regional Medical Center saw 46,000 patients in its emergency room in fiscal 2009-2010, McDaniel said. At least 8 percent were uninsured and another smaller percentage were able to pay but had no insurance, he said.
But there are financial counselors on site who coach people through the patient’s financial assistance program, McDaniel pointed out.
“Their job is to be a patient advocate and guide them through the payment process,” McDaniel said. “Ideally we want to get them on a Medi-Cal or CMSP program.”
Finally, there is the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development that provides financial policies of every hospital in the state at: www.oshpd.ca.gov
Staff Writer William Roller can be reached at 760-337-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org