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Vida Tries to Fill Health-Care Gap

Dolores Parraz is like far too many parents in the northeast San Fernando Valley: She’s too poor to afford medical insurance, but too rich to qualify for state or federal help. So she does what other parents like her do: She waits and prays that her children’s illnesses won’t worsen before she can scrape together enough cash for a visit to the doctor’s office. It can be frightening and downright dangerous. Two of Parraz’s three children have not seen a doctor since they were toddlers.

Working with a network of public and private neighborhood clinics, the nonprofit group Valley Organized in Community Efforts, or VOICE, has launched a unique health-care program that aims to serve northeast Valley residents like Parraz--a sort of grass-roots HMO that promises to cover the working poor for a fraction of the cost of traditional insurance. The Vida project--scheduled to begin a one-year, 300-family trial in January--was conceived last year by VOICE and attorneys from San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services. If successful, it could serve as a model for bringing affordable health care to thousands of northern Los Angeles County families.

Members selected for the project will pay between $10 and $25 a month for coverage at a number of clinics across the northeast Valley. Members will receive critical services such as checkups, X-rays, prescriptions, preventive care screenings and immunizations. The program will not cover emergency care or treatment for catastrophic illnesses. It’s not full-service coverage, but it does provide the kind of preventive care critical to avoiding more serious ailments.

Vida has the potential to fill an important gap in the delivery of medical care. The very poor often get better treatment than those making between $20,000 and $30,000 a year because they qualify for government programs such as Medi-Cal. Initiatives such as the state’s $500-million Healthy Families program help. But Healthy Families covers only children. Health care is a necessity far too many families do without. How to provide it to all has stumped everyone from Dolores Parraz to President Clinton. Vida may not solve the problem completely, but it certainly provides hope.

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