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Published: Thursday, 12/14/2006

Think twice about cutting bottom out of local CareNet

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner is considering limiting access to health care for low-income people.

Of course, he probably wouldn't put it quite that way.

No, he'd say a $62,500 funding request from CareNet is just not too darned likely, not with next year's budget looking so grim.

CareNet, remember, is a program for low-income Lucas County residents - most of whom have turned out to be Toledoans - who have no health insurance but don't qualify for government assistance.

The program itself offers no health care.

Instead, it coordinates services by linking physicians and hospitals with applicants who pay according to income.

New in 2002, CareNet meant an unprecedented alliance between ProMedica Health System and Mercy Health Partners.

The program has since expanded, but one thing remains unchanged over the years - CareNet was a real coup for former Mayor Jack Ford.

At the time CareNet was unveiled, Mr. Ford was as excited as anyone had ever seen him (or ever would again).

Four years later, a new mayor shrugs his shoulders at a $62,500 request for a program that did not emerge From The Desk of Carty Finkbeiner.

Calling CareNet "very important," Carty warned that support for outside agencies "is going to be strained this year."

I would never suggest Hizzoner is any more self-aggrandizing than other pols, but I do have to wonder if he'd dig into those 2007 pockets a little more deeply had CareNet - and the subsequent hosannas given it - been due to him and not his predecessor.

CareNet has been hailed by both the American and the Ohio hospital associations. Earlier this year, it was cited by Michigan Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra when he introduced a bill to help communities provide health care to low-income, uninsured people.

None of these kudos matters to retiree Ken Nicklas, mind you. All this 68-year-old Toledoan knows is that his wife, Janie, will be one of CareNet's roughly 4,000 members who otherwise would struggle.

With his 60-year-old wife too young for Medicare, but not earning enough to buy coverage with wages from a full-time laundromat job that offers no benefits, Mr. Nicklas can't figure how his diabetic wife would pay for continued health care.

Lord knows his Social Security check can't stretch much more.

There's no shortage of data linking personal bankruptcy and medical costs.

Harvard University researchers published a study saying the average bankruptcy filer's medical debt was $12,000 - and that was even when 68 percent of those filing had health coverage.

Meanwhile, at Harvard's School of Public Health, 43 percent of respondents to a recent poll said high cost was one of the two most important health-care issues calling for government response.

Carty, I think that's your cue.

Sure, the upcoming year will be tough on city coffers.

But given our economy, and the serious threat that under-insurance poses to the financial stability of at least 4,000 people, taking the scissors to CareNet doesn't sound like the wisest long-term strategy.

Roberta de Boer's column appears here Tuesdays and Thursdays, and in Behind the News on Sundays.



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