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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2003

Ford happy with start to free county health-care

Response to a local program to provide free medical care to uninsured and low-income Lucas County residents has cooled, but Toledo Mayor Jack Ford and others said yesterday they're happy with the results so far.

“I'm pleased,” Mr. Ford said. “It looks like the program is steady.”

Begun in January, CareNet is designed to get those without access to medical care to doctors and hospitals at no cost. To be eligible, enrollees can't qualify for government programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid, and must be at double the federal poverty level or less. Individuals can make up to $17,960, and a household of four can make up to $36,800.

CareNet officials said in April they expected to have 2,000 members signed up by now. Yesterday, they said 1,028 people had enrolled, and 111 are in the process of enrolling. CareNet officials have estimated 22,000 people in the county qualify for CareNet, though they said they're starting slow and small to avoid overburdening the system.

Mr. Ford said he hopes CareNet has 2,500 members by the end of the year.

Jan Ruma, executive director of CareNet, said public knowledge of the program has tapered off since the initial splash made in the media, as well as the attention from local leaders and medical officials.

Whether to provide drug coverage has been one of the program's biggest unresolved challenges. Ms. Ruma said CareNet probably would not pay for prescription drugs for members. However, she said the individual clinic sites or physicians members in the system have been providing some free medication.

CareNet has begun publicizing sources where members, or anyone eligible, can turn for free or low-cost medication. One such service pushed by the program is RxForOhio.org, a Web site established by the pharmaceutical industry that helps people apply for free drugs offered by drug companies.

Ms. Ruma said CareNet is making headway on another challenge: providing access to specialty care. So far, 80 specialists have signed up to provide free care for a variety of services.

Administrative expenses for the program are funded with $425,000 in contributions over two years from the city of Toledo, ProMedica Health System, Mercy Health Partners, and others. Mercy, ProMedica, and other health providers intend to provide about $4 million worth of “in-kind” services annually.

First Call for Help takes calls for CareNet at 419-246-4636.



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