Congressmember Lois Capps met with directors of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics Monday to talk about how to meet the increasing demand for low-cost health care. Visits to the three clinic sites are up 10 percent, said David Chernof, board chair of the nonprofit. He said its dental clinic logged 1,000 visits last November alone. But the clinics are struggling under the recession-induced demands for care, and the threat of deep cuts to key health programs like Medi-Cal as the state reconciles its $42 billion deficit.
Still, Capps said the economic stimulus bill under negotiation in Congress- the House passed its version last Wednesday-would help by providing $500 million to community clinics nationwide. The House bill-the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009-also would expand Medicaid (in California it’s Medi-Cal), provide Cobra subsidies for the unemployed, and money for health information technology that greatly improves efficiency. The act contains $11 billion for California’s Medi-Cal program but the stimulus package pending in the Senate has only $9 billion. Ultimately, the two will be combined, warranting compromises from both legislative bodies.
Chernof said the clinic is currently applying for grants to help it expand hours at its three sites, in an effort to serve more unemployed and uninsured patients. In the meantime, the director of the county’s Department of Social Services, Kathy Gallagher, said applications for Medi-Cal insurance are up 3 percent, a smaller increase than expected given the number of people who’ve lost health benefits due to lost jobs. “We haven’t seen the level of increase that we feared,” Gallagher said. “But if layoffs continue in the county : the numbers will [likely] go up.” Gallagher said applications for food stamps have increased 20 percent in the last six months.