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Patients Plead to Save Medical Aid Program

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When it’s time for Escondido resident Freda Taylor to have chemotherapy for her liver cancer, she isn’t sure what she will do, because she has no money to pay for it.

When construction worker Roy Trammell needs blood tests to monitor his HIV infection, he won’t be able to pay for them--or for the many drugs he must take.

And Vista resident Carl Todd just wonders why society wants to throw people like him away.

They are among the San Diego County residents who said Monday that they are frightened by the possible abolition of the County Medical Services program.

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They spoke at a press conference called one day before the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on abolishing the program through which they have received medical care they couldn’t afford.

The $41-million-a-year program is out of money for the fiscal year and building up a debt at the rate of $1 million every 10 days, county administrators said last week. They recommended ending reimbursements to hospitals and doctors after March 15.

Assembled at the behest of the San Diego Council of Community Clinics, they gave personal, sometimes tearful, testimony to what the CMS program pays for:

* A hernia operation for Taylor, 55, a procedure she had put off for a year, until the pain became so excruciating that she had no choice. The operation found that cancer had been growing in her liver for at least that entire year.

“It’s not growing at this stage, but looking to the future when I may have medical expenses that I’m no longer able to take care of, I’m worried,” Taylor said. “When you’re worried about your financial aid, that doesn’t help your condition.”

* The regular blood tests, other monitoring and drugs that Trammell, 45, needs to keep his HIV infection in check.

“All we’re asking today is to be treated as human beings, to be loved as human beings,” said Trammell, of Oceanside. “And to please not drop this program. . . . Because we will die. I personally will die in a very few months if I cannot receive my medication and treatment.”

* Heart surgery for Todd, 55, three years ago. Now, he is having seizures and has neurology tests scheduled for March 5. But, if CMS dies on March 15, any follow-up will be out of the question, he figures. Even paying for medicine is impossible.

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“The cost is not fitable within my budget, because welfare’s not near enough money,” he said. “I pay $250 a month rent, out of a $291 check. And I’m supplied with $102 worth of food stamps. So there’s no room.”

Stephen Shubert, executive director of the Council of Community Clinics, said the 16 clinics in the network will try to help people like Taylor, Trammell and Todd, but it

wouldn’t be easy if CMS dies.

“We are going to do our best to provide care to this population. We’re not going to tell them to go away,” Shubert said.

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Patients would be asked to help pay for their care on a sliding fee scale, plus medication, he said.

Clinics would also have to refer seriously ill patients to hospital emergency rooms, where their care would go uncompensated, he said.

Shubert called on the county to find a way to pay for the program at its current level, and on the state to solve it permanently by revamping the Medi-Cal program.

In 1983, the state removed the working poor, the uninsured and other medically indigent adults from eligibility for the state-federal Medi-Cal program. It turned over health care for these people to counties, but later reneged on promises to fund the care.

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In San Diego County, the state contribution has declined from $55.5 million in 1983 to $19.8 million in this fiscal year.

Patients and representatives of the clinics, Legal Aid Society of San Diego, hospitals and AIDS groups are among those planning to appear before the Board of Supervisors today to oppose the CMS cuts.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the supervisors’ chambers in the County Administration Center, 1600 Pacific Highway.


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