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Obama to SCV’s poor: Take a hike

Posted: August 8, 2009 6:36 p.m.
Updated: August 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.
On the subject of universal health care, the Obama administration and its friends in Congress are talking out of both sides of their mouths.

They tell you they want every American - and even some non-Americans - to have adequate medical care at rates they can afford.
It's a lofty goal and it makes for some energetic political speeches.

But it's still theory at this point. What are they actually doing in practice?

They're telling the urban poor in the Santa Clarita Valley and other suburban communities to take a hike because they don't fit the mold of the people they're willing to help.

If you're uninsured or underinsured in Santa Clarita, you're out of luck. The federal government won't pick up the tab if you decide you need to visit your local health clinic.

It would be one thing if the federal government didn't fund neighborhood clinics anywhere. But that's not the case.

If you're uninsured or underinsured in Pacoima or Boyle Heights or Panorama City, the feds will fund a neighborhood clinic where you can go for medical checkups and treatment.

But if you're homeless and living under a bridge in Santa Clarita, or you're making minimum wage at a fast-food restaurant and supporting a family of four, forget it.

Because you have chosen to live in a safe, clean community instead of a ghetto - whether you were born here or you arrived yesterday - you can fall dead in the street for all Mr. Obama's Health and Human Services Department cares.

It wasn't always this way. It wasn't this way during the Bush years. This came with the change in the White House.

Previously, the Santa Clarita Valley's Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers could count on $90,000 or $100,000 from the feds to help them fill the "medigap" for people who couldn't afford routine health services.

The Samuel Dixon centers are an under-sung treasure in our valley. Named for an African-American minister and community leader in Val Verde, the nonprofit organization has served lower-income SCV residents since 1980.

Growing by leaps and bounds to keep pace with an exploding population, the organization runs three clinics today in Val Verde, Canyon Country and Newhall.

Its doctors provide all of the services you'd get from any full-cost practitioner, from child health programs to breast cancer prevention.

The difference is that Samuel Dixon charges only as much as its patients can afford to pay and denies medical service to no one.

It's able to accomplish this through a variety of funding mechanisms, from local charity fundraisers, to donated lab work from Providence, to county, state and - until this year - federal funding.

That federal funding wasn't shut off for every clinic in the country. Only those in the Santa Clarita Valley and 100 other communities across California where the area's overall income level is too high for the clinic to qualify.

Chris Patterson of the California Primary Care Association said this year's omnibus spending bill - aka "the stimulus package" - has been "wonderful for Federally Qualified Health Centers because they've received money."

There's the rub. If you're not one of 92 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) in California, you get zero.

What is an FQHC? It's a health-care organization, generally a neighborhood clinic, that receives enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements through the Public Health Service Act.

Why isn't Samuel Dixon an FQHC? Let's look at the criteria:

Offers a sliding fee scale? Check.

Provides comprehensive services? Check.

Has an ongoing quality assurance program? Check.

Has a governing board of directors? Check.

Serves an underserved area or population? Uh-oh.

We simply don't have enough people living under bridges or working for little money for the federal government to help the ones we do have.

They would have to move to Lynwood or South Central Los Angeles or Van Nuys to get the necessary medical attention. If they stay in the Santa Clarita Valley, they - and their children - had better never get sick.

"We don't qualify for stimulus funding even though we serve the same demographics as the places that are receiving federal money," said Cheryl Laymon, executive director of the Samuel Dixon clinics. "We do not have any real slums in Santa Clarita."

This is plain and simple discrimination. It's reverse redlining.

You remember redlining. It was the practice of discriminating economically against particular neighborhoods. Home, auto and health insurers would set premium rates by ZIP code, charging higher premiums if you lived in a ZIP code where you were more likely to get mugged or your car stolen or your house burglarized.

The courts ruled it illegal, and California voters created an Office of the Insurance Commissioner in 1988 to stamp it out.

Instead of ZIP codes, Obama's health department is using census tracts to weed out undesirable communities like Santa Clarita.

We don't have a census tract with a high enough concentration of urban poor - i.e., a slum - for Health and Human Services to designate and fund a Federally Qualified Health Center here.

Whatever their personal thoughts about the theory of universal health care, we need Buck McKeon and Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to work together and fix this - in practice, right now.

Because this is just wrong.


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