San Francisco addresses health reform

Jovel Quierolo
Managing Editor

More than 82,000 San Franciscans have no health insurance, according to the San Francisco Medical Society, but the City and County of San Francisco provide some basic coverage that proposed national health care reform would extend.

“We really don’t know how the president’s programs will affect us, but any help we can get will certainly be utilized,” said Bob Menezes, Director of Marketing & Communications for Healthy San Francisco, a non-profit begun two years ago to make health care services accessible and affordable to uninsured.

There is a need for health insurance in low to middle-income citizens with the worst cases being families living in Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs) without substantial health care.

“There are an awful lot of people living in poverty who are not getting adequate medical treatment,” said Dr. Andrea Sello, who teaches pediatric medicine at UCSF. “Often the state does not have enough money to provide care for people who cannot pay.”

The average SRO family consists of three to four people living in a 10-by-10 room without a kitchen or bathroom, according to a report on the Census of Families with Children Living in Single Room Occupancy Hotels in San Francisco.

Half the parents living in an SRO reported health problems for them and their children that correlate with their living conditions including respiratory problems and disease due to overcrowding and poor lifestyle. Families in SROs often lack access to, public services or a regular doctor.

“Families in poverty who don’t have health insurance or parents who have lost insurance find it hard to pay for expensive accidents insurance can cover,” said Dr. Barry Egener, who works at a nonprofit clinic.
Low and middle-income citizens cannot legally be turned away from the emergency room. For those who cannot pay their hospital bills, the county provides millions of dollars to maintain a safety net for only patients below the poverty line while paying for city policy and supporting free clinics, according to Menezes.

“Those who fall slightly above that line are out of luck,” said Menezes. “What we need and what Healthy San Francisco strives to do is not insurance mentored teens as they became adults.

but a way for mostly middle income people to access routine check ups that are many times more beneficial than waiting until they get to the emergency room.”

Even with a sliding scale that allows some citizens to pay for care based on their income, the county continues to explore means of paying for those who cannot pay to support themselves.

“Healthy San Francisco has 46,000 people in the program, but we along with other city and private programs can’t cover everyone,” said Menezes. “It is possible that the federal programs could supplement our work and grow upon it.”

The health of children and teens specifically depends on their access to health services, as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their access involves both the availability of a regular source of care and the ability of the child’s family, or someone else, to pay for it.

“The health care debate going on in their city and country applies to them,” said Egere. “How they get their vaccines or where they have their accidents treated should be important to them.”

Teens should but do not often think about their health care or the dynamics of health care availability, according to senior Alexa Collins.

“I think about my healthcare when I injure myself, and because I have physical therapy,” said senior Alexa Collins, who gets treatment for her joints. “Teens are concerned with college and boys and homework. Healthcare is important, but it’s hard to get teens interested.”

All age groups will be affected by Barack Obama plan to provide insurance
for those who do not.

“Most doctors support the health care reform because Obama’s program could ensure care so anyone can get treated on an ongoing basis wherever you need it, wherever you are,” said Sello. “I support it because as physicians we believe everyone should have access to care. We advocate for the patient. The plan is not specific but, it would provide care.”