Balto. County forms partnership to provide low-cost health care

Program to serve residents ages 19 to 64

January 20, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County has formed a partnership to provide health care to some of the estimated 100,000 county residents who don't have insurance.

"One in seven people in Baltimore County are uninsured, and these are people who work," said Dr. Michelle A. Leverett, the county's health officer.

Under the program, announced this week, 300 residents would pay $25 a month for health coverage through the health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente.

The fee covers a small portion of what the HMO typically charges for insurance. Kaiser Permanente is donating the rest of the cost and will provide primary-care services and discounted prescriptions.

"We have an obligation to give back," said Barbara S. Hoffman, the Baltimore-area administrator for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States.

Greater Baltimore Medical Center and St. Agnes HealthCare will donate hospital care.

The health program was developed and will be administered by the county. It is available to county residents ages 19 to 64 whose employers do not offer insurance benefits.

County officials said they designed the program to fill a gap. Children up to age 18 can receive coverage from the state's Children's Health Program, and adults age 65 and older are eligible for Medicare, but the working poor are often left uncovered.

"In Baltimore County, we have about 100,000 people who fall through those cracks," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

To find participants, the county will reach out to parents of the 8,000 county children enrolled in the state program.

Despite a healthy economy, county officials said, the problem of health care access is worsening. A U.S. Census Bureau report released in October showed that the ranks of the uninsured nationwide grew by about 1 million -- to 44.3 million -- from 1997 to 1998. Contributing factors include growing numbers of small businesses that don't offer insurance and rising premiums that have caused workers to drop their coverage.

Leverett said she had been working on the insurance plan since becoming county health officer in 1995.

"We've got a good start," she said. "We've got a ways to go."

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