As Santa Barbara County looks into potentially slicing up to $1 million off next year’s budget to provide healthcare to a portion of the county’s estimated 16,000 uninsured children, two supervisors – one for and one against the idea – presented their plans to the Santa Barbara Taxpayers Association on Thursday at Andersen’s Pea Soup in Buellton.
The county has the second highest percentage – 14.1 percent – of uninsured children in the state, according to a 2005 study. During a March meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1, with 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone dissenting, to explore finding the $1 million to begin to help the uninsured population. The aim would be to help at least 6,000 of the children. The initiative will be back in front of the board in June.
But with rising healthcare costs and inflation, Firestone believes the cost would be much higher, more like $7 or $8 million a year. And when uninsured families in other local counties hear about Santa Barbara’s plans to provide insurance, the costs will continue to grow if and when those families move here, Firestone said.
But 1st Supervisor Salud Carbajal said it was a matter of the county’s priorities being in order. Ridding the county of non-necessities, like Blackberry phones for government officials, can carve out some of the money. The mission of government, according to Carbajal, is the health and public safety of its residents.
Not so, said ophthalmologist Dennis Shepard, who attended the meeting, and spoke after Carbajal left for a radio appearance. Nowhere in the constitution does it say anything about health and public safety, but rather the role of government is to secure the nation’s borders and print the money, Shepard said. The real need is to re-educate parents on what to do when their child is ill. Just educating parents on when it is appropriate to take their children to the hospital will cut costs by a factor of ten, he said.
To have the health care discussion, Firestone said, the county’s budget has to be looked at. “Everything keys off the budget,” Firestone said. “Our predicted expenses exceed our predicted income. We’re going to have a very tough year in the coming years.” Firestone estimated 87 percent of the county’s budget comes from property taxes, and property values have not been increasing because of a softness in the real estate market. As the middle class leaves because of the high cost of living, businesses are also leaving. “We don’t seem to be business friendly,” Firestone said. “And business pays the taxes.”
Carbajal said the move would be a preventative measure to save the county a lot of money. Law mandates the county pay for hospital visits by those who are uninsured. But if insurance were provided, children could maintain their health with regular trips to the doctor. Carbajal likened it to how people treat their car – instead of waiting for the car to break down, owners take preventative measures like changing the oil.
Universal health care is better left to the state and federal government, according to Firestone, who predicts something will be in place by the fall. “We’ve got something here we cannot contemplate to afford tying up county administration and facilities,” Firestone said. “It’s not the responsibility of the county.”