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From the President

Dr. Sandra R. Hernández became president and CEO of the California HealthCare Foundation in January 2014. In her monthly column she reflects on her experiences as a physician and philanthropic leader to comment on the latest reports and projects from CHCF.
  1. Zuckerberg San Francisco General Continues 166-Year Tradition of Opening Doors to All

    Sandra R. Hernández, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra Hernandez, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra R. Hernández

    I'll never forget how I felt when I first visited San Francisco General Hospital more than 30 years ago. I was an East Coast medical student on a visiting rotation, and the effect on me was immediate: I was inspired and knew I would be happy working there. When I learned the next year that I would be doing my medical residency there, I felt as if I'd hit the jackpot. The hospital represented not only the best of science, but the best of public service. Since opening in 1850 to cope with a Gold Rush cholera outbreak, the hospital has helped train generations of doctors caring for immigrants, refugees, and newcomers of every stripe speaking many languages.

    San Francisco's residents, elected officials, and business leaders have long recognized the hospital's vital role in improving public health, providing broad access to coverage and care, and serving as the city's only Level 1 trauma center. They have demonstrated that understanding by providing tremendous financial, philanthropic, and political support.

  2. Medi-Cal's 50-Year Journey from Narrow Welfare Program to Engine of Change in California Health Care

    Sandra R. Hernández, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra Hernandez, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra R. Hernández

    When Randy Seriguchi moved to California from the East Coast last summer, the 30-year-old lawyer took a short-term job with a nonprofit education policy group in Sacramento. While the position didn't include health insurance, Seriguchi calculated that he could go without coverage until finding a job with benefits. He certainly didn't expect that he would develop a severe sinus infection just as his temporary job ended and his income dried up. He tried to tough it out with over-the-counter remedies, but the infection continued to get worse.

    "October was one of the worst months of my life," he said. "I had constant facial pain, headaches, and pressure on the right side of my face." On Halloween, Seriguchi descended into delirium. Half his face was paralyzed. His money worries, which had kept him away from doctors that month, finally yielded to the pain and fear, and he went to an emergency room expecting bad news about his health and worse news about how much the care was going to cost. He was shocked to learn from an admitting clerk that he was eligible for emergency enrollment in Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program for low-income residents, and that there would be no big bills. Doctors ordered a CT scan, diagnosed Bell's palsy (a temporary paralysis of his face caused by damaged nerves), and prescribed medicines to reduce the inflammation and pain.

  3. Federal Task Force Takes Major Step to Unite Care of Body and Mind

    Sandra R. Hernández, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra Hernandez, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra R. Hernández

    The American health care system has just moved closer to a goal that I and many of my physician colleagues have long desired. Recognizing that depression is a prevalent condition that's inextricably linked to patient outcomes for physical diseases, the US Preventive Services Task Force on January 26 recommended that health care providers routinely screen patients 18 and over, including expectant and new moms, for depression. For those who are working toward the vision of a high-functioning health care system that assesses and treats the whole patient — both mind and body — this is a great moment.

    Screening is a powerful tool. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) gives the task force recommendation the force of law, requiring health plans to waive copayments and deductibles for depression screenings. Millions of people with common, treatable behavioral health problems will be able to get the help they need.

  4. Charting CHCF's Course for 2016

    Sandra R. Hernández, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra Hernandez, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra R. Hernández

    Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted nearly six years ago, American health care was like a car speeding precariously toward the edge of a cliff. Health costs and insurance premiums were steadily climbing. Safety-net institutions were staggering under the weight of demand for uncompensated care. Health insurance companies routinely denied coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions. Nearly 50 million Americans were uninsured, and millions of others who carried health plan membership cards had threadbare benefits that left them one accident or illness from financial disaster. While the ACA was certainly not a panacea for all that ails American health care, it's fair to say that it sparked important health policy changes that steered the health care system away from the cliff.

    Here in California millions of people gained protection from medical bankruptcy for themselves and their families. Eligibility expansions enabled by the law have begun to benefit overlooked and underserved communities. Since implementation began two years ago, more than 2 million Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal, and 1.3 million people purchased subsidized private health plans through Covered California just this year. And Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law the Health for All Kids Act, allowing up to 250,000 undocumented children in the state to be transitioned into comprehensive Medi-Cal coverage. In this new health care model, insurers must issue coverage to anyone regardless of medical condition, buyers of coverage are eligible for tax credits to help pay monthly premiums, and there must be parity between mental health and physical health services.

  5. California Expands Latino Enrollment and Access to Coverage and Care

    Sandra R. Hernández, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra Hernandez, President & Chief Executive Officer
    Sandra R. Hernández

    Over half a century, the Medicare and Medicaid programs have transformed, modernized, and reorganized American health care. Likewise, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has brought about important health policy changes that will reverberate for decades to come — and many of the changes have special importance for the health of California's Latino community.

    Eligibility expansions enabled by the law have benefited populations long overlooked and underserved. Since implementation began two years ago, more than 2 million Californians have signed up with Medi-Cal, and now almost half of its 12.4 million enrollees are Latino. Covered California enrolled 1.3 million people this year; nearly 300,000 were Latino. And last month Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Health for All Kids Act, which will enable up to 250,000 undocumented children in the state — most of them Latino — to transition into comprehensive Medi-Cal coverage.

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