Healthy SF program expanded

July 10, 2008 7:54:34 PM PDT
One year after it started, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled a major expansion of the city's universal health care program Thursday, adding some of the largest hospitals in the city to a program that's already the first of its kind in the country.

If Mayor Newsom had a vision for universal health care in San Francisco, he now has the facilities to help deliver on that promise.

Four major hospitals, St. Francis Memorial Hospital, St. Mary's Medical Center, California Pacific Medical Center and the U.C. San Francisco Medical Center have now agreed to become part of a managed care network for members of the Healthy San Francisco program.

"This is a model for the state and the rest of the country," Newsom said.

Patients will be given primary care in out-patient clinics, but get more involved treatment at the participating hospitals.

"I suffer from congestive heart failure, I have a pacemaker, I'm on a gang of medicines," William Beale said. "Sometimes it's hard for me to be able to get medication and needs that I have for [my] health conditions and basically sometimes it's big problems."

Beale struggles to control his heart condition while living on the street. This can lead to problems that become a chronic expense when uninsured patients, like Beale, wind up in hospital emergency rooms where they cannot be denied care.

"A lot of our patients that don't have insurance come to us through the emergency room, about 99 percent of them" Abbie Yant of St. Francis Memorial Hospital said."And we are spending about $6 million a year in charity care on patients that are either treated and discharged or admitted into the hospital."

Yant handles community outreach for St. Francis. The hospital, located near the Tenderloin, is particularly hard hit, she said. Even though participating hospitals will not be reimbursed per patient, she believes that the program will help control costs down the road, by keeping patients healthier and out of the emergency room.

"That's one of the reasons we were first in line to say, 'how can we work this together,'" Yant said.

Hospital resources will become increasingly important as the program expands, Mayor Newsom said. About 25,000 city residents have currently signed up for the plan and that number is expected to triple in the next few years.

Despite the expansion there is still a challenge to the universal health care plan. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit on behalf of all businesses being required to contribute to the plan. That case in now in the judge's hands and a ruling could come down any day.


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