Access equals real health-care reform

Last week, Senate Republicans re-introduced our health-care plan, along with some new ideas to the Legislature. Our plan, known as Cal Care Plus, contains 24 measures that will create better access, affordability and choice in California’s health-care system.

Senate Republicans continue to stress that no real reform can be made until we increase access to medical care.

In other words, even if we give every Californian a health-care card, we can’t promise each and every person will have timely access to see a medical practitioner. That’s because emergency rooms are crowded with many non-emergency patients (because, unfortunately, ERs are the only means of health care for some Californians) and doctors are in short supply.

While some of my legislative colleagues and the governor propose various forms of government-operated health care that come with multibillion-dollar price tags and huge tax increases to foot the bill, we have introduced genuine solutions that come with realistic funding mechanisms that will open the door to health-care access and rein in costs.

One of the key components to meaningful health-care reform is increasing the number of health-care clinics in our communities to handle routine aches and pains, offer immunizations and provide preventative medicine.

Clinics are not new ideas. In fact, many states–including California–have clinics operating in retail settings like Longs Drugs, Wal-Mart, Pharmacia Remidios and Rite Aid. The problem is we don’t have enough clinics in California to make a real dent in the long lines at expensive and crowded emergency rooms and doctor’s offices.

We can change this condition.

We have proposed an idea that would create financial incentives for hospitals to direct patients to clinics. We have proposed to allow highly trained nurse practitioners to work without the supervision of doctors, which means more patients with routine illnesses will be seen on a daily basis.

This is particularly a boon for the under-insured and the uninsured.

That’s because clinics offer services at substantially lower prices than ERs and the costs of services are listed on a “menu board”–not unlike other consumer businesses–which gives customers the option to compare prices. It also creates competition among the clinics, which drives prices down, benefiting health care consumers.

QuickHealth, the provider of clinics for Wal-Mart and other retailers, offers routine visits for $49. For the price of the average monthly cable bill, a mother can get her child treated by a doctor, and an adult can receive preventative care to allay potential costly health problems such as heart disease, kidney failure and strokes.

For the insured, clinics are a quick means to medical care without having to make an appointment or take time off from work, and generally the patient has the option to bill the insurance company for reimbursement.

For the rural communities, clinics are an invaluable service. Doctors tend to shy away from outlying towns, choosing instead to work in metropolitans where the pay is higher. As a result, rural residents often wait weeks to get simple treatments. Clinics would give residents an opportunity to see a health care professional without the wait.

Clinics all across the land have helped contain rising medical costs and reduce long lines at ERs. Businesses like Pepsi, Toyota and Nextel are opening employee clinics to promote wellness and to cut costs by giving health care access to their workers.

Travis County, Texas, started a health clinic for its employees in early 2005. Since that time, the county reports a $17 million savings and healthier and happier employees, retirees and family members.

If we truly want to offer more access and get a grip on health care costs in California, we need to build many more private and public owned clinics in our cities, rural communities and the suburbs.

Senate Republicans believe it’s time for the Legislature to enact ideas that will greatly improve Californians’ access to health care, not just hand out meaningless health care cards and empty promises.

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