Report: 70,000 county residents to get health insurance in health care overhaul

An expansion of Medicaid in President Barack Obama's massive health care overhaul is expected to bring health coverage to 70,000 uninsured Sonoma County residents, according to a comprehensive assessment of the law's local impacts.

The report, which will be presented this afternoon to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, summarizes the effects of the law and was prepared by county health officials several months ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline for the state to begin enrolling patients in its health benefit exchange.

Other issues the report highlights include details on the launching of the state's exchange; health insurance mandates for individuals and employers; the incremental reduction of federal payments to local hospitals; and greater funding for preventative medicine.

The supervisors' hearing launches a dramatic education campaign in which the county health services agency will educate the public about health care enrollment requirements and deadlines.

"From our perspective, we want people to be able to enroll anywhere in our community, their church, their community centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, schools and other community partners," said Peter Rumble, director of health policy for the Sonoma County Department of Health Services.

Rumble said the report will show how "far ahead" California and Sonoma County are "in being prepared for health care reform."

In 2012, thousands of low-income Sonoma County residents got an early taste of Obama's health care law through the early expansion of Medicaid in California. Dubbed the "California Bridge to Reform," the state authorized counties to expand coverage to adults without children through the state's Low Income Health Program.

In Sonoma County, the early expansion program is called Path2Health, which currently has 7,000 people enrolled. Come next year, all of these residents will be transitioned to Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program.

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said today's report would help the county develop "strategies to maximize the improvements" that the Affordable Care Act will ultimately provide. These include better screening, more residents receiving coverage, eliminating denial of insurance due to pre-existing conditions and creating health care homes for families rather than defaulting to expensive emergency care.

According to the report, the Affordable Care Act:

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