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OC Reluctant to Seek Federal Funding for Health Reforms

Orange County’s Board of Supervisors blocked the OC Health Care Agency’s attempt to seek $10 million in federal grants because some board members believe the money is tainted by “Obamacare.”  This move bars an application for $40,000 that the agency would use to create a model workplace wellness policy, as well as an application to win $2 million a year for 5 years to promote healthy lifestyle choices, such as tobacco-free living and healthy eating.

In last week’s board meeting, Board Chairman John Moorlach stated, “I’m taking the posture that if it’s anything to do with, I’ll use the term Obamacare, I’m going to be a no.”

In an interview, Moorlach elaborated his position: “I like to vote ‘no’ on these items because I don’t want to commit this county to federal programs that may not actually be implemented.  It’s not a good use of taxpayer money looking at the big picture.”  He cited the impending Supreme Court hearing and the presidential election as possible reasons why health reform may not be implemented.

Two other supervisors, Patricia Bates and Shawn Nelson also voted to quash an application that had been submitted for an American Public Health Association innovation grant.  However, two supervisors, Bill Campbell and Janet Nguyen, voted in favor of applying for the grant.

Nguyen pointed out that CalOptima “applies for these [innovation] grants all the time,” and while she is opposed to “Obamacare,” she claims to take a pragmatic approach to federal grants that could help residents of the county.

Nguyen is also involved in a battle to restructure the CalOptima board in an effort to give her district and hospitals, more power over the health agency, while lessening the role of consumers, who are the main recipients of care through CalOptima.  Her attempts to give a permanent seat to the supervisor whose district has the most CalOptima members – historically Nguyen’s 1st District in central Orange County – have not been successful.

Currently, the board has three seats for consumer groups, three for medical providers, one for business, one for the OC Health Care Agency, and one for a member of the Board of Supervisors, which is currently being filled by Nguyen.  The proposed changes would have reduced consumer representation to one, and require that one of the providers be a hospital administrator or representative of a hospital trade organization, and one be a representative of community clinics.  The Board of Supervisors’ permanent member would no longer be up to the supervisors’ chairman, but assigned to the supervisor representing the district with the most CalOptima users.

Supervisor Moorlach said “It just seems this is a solution looking for a problem.  This organization is working like a watch.”

CalOptima provides care to 430,000 indigent adults and has an annual budget of $1.3 billion.  If the health care law is fully implemented, an additional 100,000 to 200,000 Orange County citizens and legal permanent residents could gain health coverage through CalOptima.

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