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Plan to Insure Poor Children in O.C. Is OKd

Times Staff Writer

After putting off a more ambitious proposal earlier this year, Orange County supervisors adopted a drastically curtailed program Tuesday to extend health insurance coverage to poor children.

The plan, which takes effect immediately, is expected to provide insurance to just under half of the estimated 40,000 uninsured children in Orange County. Supervisors said they would consider expanding the program after reviewing its results in a few months.

The plan passed unanimously and could be considered a symbolic victory for its champion, Supervisor Lou Correa, the lone Democrat on the county board.

But he did not hide his regret that the Board of Supervisors chose to go with the least comprehensive option.

Of his former career as an assemblyman, he said, “One of the rules we learned was, you never fall in love with a bill. Sometimes you just get disappointed.”

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Correa’s health insurance agenda, which he launched earlier this year, amounted to a philosophic showdown with his more conservative colleagues and an indicator of his ability to win them over to his causes.

The initial result did not go well.

Under a plan put forward in October, Correa proposed spending $2.1 million over the next three years to hire 22 outreach workers to link the uninsured with health insurance services such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. It also would have provided coverage for those whose family incomes slightly exceeded the limits for those programs.

Colleagues balked, calling it an expansion of government services and noting that county finances are already stretched thin. Supervisor Jim Silva said Orange County would “become a magnet for poor people.”

The measure adopted Tuesday will cost the county nothing, because the expenses will be covered by the state and federal government. As approved, the county will dedicate nine employees to the outreach effort, and there will be no additional coverage for children whose family incomes exceed the poverty limit levels set by the government.

About 19,000 children are estimated to qualify for the programs. The remaining uninsured children in the county, officials said, are mainly undocumented immigrants or in families whose income exceeds the limits.

Observers took note of the starkly competing political philosophies that drove the debate.

“It is a very complex issue for you to address, politically and philosophically,” said Julie Puentes, of the Hospital Assn. of Southern California, in an address to the board. She supported Correa’s original idea, but Tuesday she praised even the more limited option as an improvement over the existing situation.

In the end, it was the only option supervisors were willing to consider.


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