Health plan to serve Balto. County residents who lack medical care

August 12, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County will join a growing number of counties this fall as it sets up a health care plan for some of its 105,000 residents who have no medical insurance.

A $100,000 grant from a Columbia-based nonprofit agency will be used to operate a program providing medical services for several hundred adults, according to Dr. Michelle Leverett, county health officer.

The services will be donated by Kaiser Permanente.

Leverett, formerly a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said the program aims to serve people who depend on hospital emergency rooms for their medical care.

She said she has been trying to create such a program since she was appointed county health officer in 1995.

The program, which will serve only adults, is intended to supplement the federal Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) mentioned Sunday by President Clinton, who criticized states for not taking advantage of the program.

State officials say they have signed up 52,000 of the 60,000 children in Maryland eligible for CHIP.

In Baltimore County, 16,000 children participate in the program.

Health care experts say the Baltimore County program is similar to health care initiatives in Anne Arundel, Prince George's and St. Mary's counties, Baltimore City and Fairfax County, Va.

But they say Baltimore County's effort could be one of the most comprehensive because of the extensive services that will be provided and the potential number of patients to be served.

"There are similar things going on around the area, but this looks like it could be a pretty comprehensive effort," said Nancy Fiedler, a Maryland Hospital Association spokeswoman who is familiar with the proposal.

Leverett, who discussed the program with Kaiser Permanente officials this week, said participants will probably be asked to pay a nominal fee of about $25 a month.

They will be assigned a physician, given checkups and treated at Kaiser's medical facilities, she said.

They also can be treated at the two hospitals that will be partners in the program, St. Agnes HealthCare and Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said Sue Lovell, a Kaiser Permanente spokeswoman.

"These patients will be treated exactly the same as Kaiser Permanente members," Lovell said.

Leverett said yesterday that many of the program's details, including when it will begin and the number of clients to be served, have to be worked out.

"We're just now in the process of getting things up and running," she said.

But she hopes to expand the program by persuading other health care providers to contribute services and corporate donors to kick in cash.

"We hope to expand to get other organizations involved and make it as encompassing as possible," she said.

Officials at Kaiser Permanente, which has 260,000 subscribers in Maryland, say they agreed to participate because of the need for health care among those who cannot afford it.

State officials say 715,000 people -- about 14 percent of Maryland's population -- have no health insurance.

Leverett said Baltimore County has about the same percentage of uninsured residents -- 105,000 of a population of 720,000.

The grant was awarded to the county by the Maryland Health Care Foundation, a Columbia-based nonprofit agency set up with state funds last year to improve the working poor's access to health care coverage.

Leverett said roughly $60,000 of the grant will pay for patient services, including outreach, and for medical equipment, such as crutches, that might not be provided by Kaiser.

The balance will fund administrative costs to pay caseworkers and supervisors assigned to evaluate patient needs and ensure quality care, she said.

Pam Christoffel, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said Baltimore County was one of 34 jurisdictions to apply for grants, and one of only nine grant winners.

"There's a critical need for these kinds of programs," Christoffel said.

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