Stanislaus County officials made no public promise this week to reverse a costly fee increase for people in an adult health care program that helps some of the county's poorest residents.
Deputy County Counsel Dean Wright said this week that the county was still reviewing the policies, which have drawn a lawsuit threat from an advocacy group. Wright had no estimate on when the review will be completed.
The Western Center on Law & Poverty vowed to take legal action if the county, by Feb. 12, did not commit to changing the patient cost-sharing and income eligibility rules for the program. The nonprofit group said this week that it still was hopeful of resolving the issue.
"We are waiting to see what they came up with," said Abbi Coursolle, an attorney for the law center based in Southern California. "My understanding is they are still considering the policies and figuring out what to do."
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About 2,650 program participants are affected by a cost-sharing policy approved by county supervisors in September. Many have seen their co-payments rise from $3 to upward of $574 a month. Patients with more income are expected to pay up to $1,205 a month for office visits, tests or medication before the program pays the medical bills.
Coursolle wrote in a Jan. 26 letter to the county that the co-pays are not affordable for program participants and that the policies violate a state law requiring the county to provide health care for poor adults who are not eligible for Medi-Cal or Medicare.
In response, the county on Feb. 1 stopped requiring advance payment from program participants at Health Services Agency clinics and said it was reviewing the disputed policies.
"I have talked to them and they understand we are reviewing our policies," Wright said this week. "We are trying to work through it and see if we can find some room for agreement."
Every year, the indigent health program serves about 6,000 adults with incomes from zero to $1,805 a month.
With the September board action, the county lowered the personal asset limit from $3,000 to $2,000 (not including homes and vehicles), stopped providing preventive dental care, and required patients to pay half of the cost of dental services such as crowns and root canals.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.