In 2014, a quarter-million more Inland residents will become eligible for Medi-Cal, a government program providing health care to the poor.
National health care reform makes that clear. But other questions remain unanswered:
How many more will seek health care once they're eligible for insurance? And where will they seek care?
What about those who will stay uninsured?
Will there be enough doctors to care for everyone?
How much will all this cost?
"Every day for us is just another day of waiting for more information," said Patrick Petre, chief executive officer of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, San Bernardino County's public hospital.
"The pure magnitude of the Affordable Care Act is going to take a long time before we understand it," he said.
As they wait, Inland public health officials are getting ready. They've created stepping stones to Medi-Cal through new insurance programs, and they're emphasizing ongoing and preventative care to keep patients healthier and reduce the need for costly medical treatments.
How the counties adjust to health care reform is crucial to the needy, who depend on public hospitals and clinics. It's also important for taxpayers, who pay to keep the safety net intact.
State officials also are trying to navigate the health care law.
In his State of the State address to the Legislature last week, Gov. Jerry Brown warned lawmakers that the federal law poses major logistical challenges. He called for a special session to pass legislation needed to implement the health care law's upcoming provisions.
"The broader expansion of Medi-Cal that the act calls for is incredibly complex and will take more time," Brown said. "Working out the right relationship with the counties will test our ingenuity and will not be achieved overnight.
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