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The Daily News of Los Angeles


by Evan Pondel, Staff Writer
July 15, 2004

Blue Shield of California Foundation plans to contribute $5 million to a yearlong program that will provide subsidies for those who struggle to pay for health insurance.

The program will target low-income families and individuals in Los Angeles who do not receive health benefits from their employer and buy their own insurance.

The benefit will range from $20 a month for an individual up to $100 for a family of five.

Approximately 18,000 consumers are expected to benefit from the program, Blue Shield said.

"The insured market continues to shrink and we are looking at a number of things to help L.A. County deal with this issue," said Bruce Bodaken, chairman and chief executive officer of Blue Shield of California.

The nonprofit health plan is poised to begin the rebate program today. Consumer advocates say though the funding is important, $5 million will not go far in such an ailing environment.

Jerry Flanagan, lead health care advocate at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, said Blue Shield and other health plans should be giving significantly more.

"And charitable contributions do not get the company off the hook for overcharging patients for decades. If Bodaken is really committed, he would lower premiums," Flanagan said.

Other health care companies have recently announced programs to benefit the poor. Blue Cross of California is currently rolling out a mobile outreach program to provide low-income families with applications for health insurance.

The Thousand Oaks-based company said the program is in no way a reaction to California regulators insisting that the company provide low-income families with more access to health care.

To be eligible for Blue Shield's program, participants must be residents of Los Angeles, have purchased and maintained their insurance for at least three months prior to applying and have a monthly income that is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $37,000 annually for a family of four).

Blue Shield is partnering with L.A. Care Health Plan to administer the program. Howard Kahn, chief executive officer of L.A. Care, said he hopes the concept of the program receives attention from other health plans.

"This is the first time we've done something like this. Hopefully the foundation will continue to contribute," Kahn said.

Several health plans are compatible with the rebate program including Blue Cross of California, Health Net, Kaiser Permanente, PacifiCare, UHP Healthcare and Universal Care.
Contact Evan Pondel at (818) 713-3662 or [email protected]