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Latino-Friendly Health Plan Extended to Orange County

Times Staff Writer

An unusual medical insurance policy that pays for conventional treatment as well as care at Mexican-style clinics on both sides of the border is now being offered in Orange County.

Officials with Health Net of California, a for-profit insurer, announced Friday that the company has extended its binational health insurance plan to people employed by participating Orange County companies.

Under the plan, called Salud con Health Net, employees can get treatment at Clinica Medica General in Santa Ana and Anaheim General Hospital. Family members living in Mexico can receive care from Sistemas Medicos Nacionales in Tijuana, Tecate, Rosarito and Mexicali.

The company began offering the plan in Los Angeles four years ago.

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A conventional Health Net plan for a family of three costs $643 per month; the binational plan costs $339 monthly, said Ana Andrade, Health Net’s vice president of Latino programs. Among other reasons, the plan is cheaper because health care is less expensive in Mexico and because Health Net secured lower service fees by promising volume, she said.

Health Net officials said they believe the low cost of the insurance and the availability of culturally sensitive care could lure uninsured families. The company estimates that one in four Latinos in Orange County is uninsured.

Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a UCLA professor of medicine who is on Health Net’s board, said the product is unique and its expansion “is a step in the right direction. It brings together a network of culturally and linguistically appropriate providers.”

Latinos, particularly recent immigrants, often think non-Latino doctors are insensitive and therefore seek out Spanish-speaking doctors who understand a culture that includes home remedies.

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This kind of care is available in the U.S. at such low-cost clinics as Clinica Medica General. But millions of people in Southern California also cross into Baja California annually to get inexpensive treatment from Mexican physicians and dentists. Latinos make the trip because they think Mexican medicine is friendlier, cheaper and more aggressive.

Dr. Michael Rodriguez, of the Department of Family Medicine at UCLA, said Health Net has made “an innovative move to capture part of a growing market.”

Those who work with the uninsured in Orange County applauded the expansion, saying that they hope the program would grow to allow individuals to participate directly and to offer health services in other Mexican states where immigrants’ families live, such as Michoacan.

“Health Net has been revolutionary in starting to create programs to help the Hispanic community,” said Raquel Olamendi, who coordinates Orange County’s Binational Health Week, which includes health fairs and educational programs each year.

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“It’s a great start, but it’s a program that is offered only to business. I would like to see a program created that would give access to everyone, regardless of what company they work for.”

Victor Blanco, president of Clinica Medica General, which will provide services in Santa Ana, said the percentage of uninsured patients seen at his six clinics in Los Angeles and Orange counties dropped from 40% to 30% after the Salud con Health Net plan began four years ago.

He attributes some of the decrease to the popularity of the Health Net product.

“For years we have been saying we needed a Latino product,” Blanco said. “I told all of the HMOs and no one would listen except Health Net.”

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