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September 19, 2007

Health care becomes city's cause

As Democratic presidential candidates unveil proposals for universal or near-universal health care for all Americans, San Franciscans already are signing up for a new program that guarantees free or sliding-scale medical care to all uninsured adults.

The program provides a network of care to city residents, regardless of existing medical conditions, immigration status or ability to pay.

For Judy Rees, a 45-year-old part-time home health aide, the program, dubbed Healthy San Francisco, will coordinate treatment for her slipped discs, borderline diabetes and anxiety.

"I've never had insurance," she said as she read a Healthy San Francisco flier in the waiting room at Glide Health Services, a clinic in the impoverished Tenderloin district. "I'd never go to the doctor unless I was deadly sick."

"You never know what's going to happen," said Frederic Tarmis, 38, an uninsured bartender in the Glide waiting room who said he was eager to sign up for the program. "I try not to think about it."

Bill Henry, 63, a part-time gardener, said he'd been navigating the city's free health clinics and San Francisco General Hospital for years and wasn't sure he needed the plan. Then he added, "Once I went to General and didn't know where to ask and I ended up getting bills."

The plan began in pilot form in July. Expanding citywide this week, it is the first attempt by an American city to tackle the health-care crisis, with the assistance of state and federal funds. Unlike other universal health-care plans being proposed, Healthy San Francisco is not insurance -- because health coverage doesn't travel with the individual. Care is provided and paid for only at clinics and hospitals in San Francisco.

"What we're seeing here is the absence of real action at the federal level," said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor Research and Education. "It certainly sends the message that this is possible."

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Posted by healthinsurance at September 19, 2007 04:23 PM