County Health Care Plan Could Serve Uninsured Workers

By Ken Kalthoff
|  Tuesday, Sep 6, 2011  |  Updated 9:30 PM CDT
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A Dallas County small business health care plan could provide benefits for up to 150,000 employees of companies that could not afford health plans before, county officials said Tuesday.

Ken Kalthoff, NBCDFW.com

A Dallas County small business health care plan could provide benefits for up to 150,000 employees of companies that could not afford health plans before, county officials said Tuesday.

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A Dallas County small business plan could provide health benefits for up to 150,000 employees who work at companies that cannot afford health plans, county officials said Tuesday.

County commissioners on Tuesday discussed the program, which would expand an Austin-area plan that provides health benefits for about 230 small businesses in Central Texas.

The Central Texas plan allows members to select from participating private medical providers, much like an HMO.

"Ever since I've been a commissioner, one of my commitments has been to find a low-cost insurance product for the working poor," said Commissioner Maurine Dickey, Republican who is a strong supporter of the new plan.

It would replace a Dallas County program that included the Parkland Medical Center system as the sole provider.

Because of a reputation for lines and long wait times at Parkland Hospital and its clinics, officials said the current plan attracted just a handful of businesses and 13 employees.

The current plan was launched with support of a $300,000 state grant.

Officials said the new program would be eligible for a $600,000 state grant if commissioners pass a resolution supporting it.

Commissioner John Wiley Price, a Democrat, said past performance was a poor use of the grant money, details are lacking on the new program, and Parkland Hospital can provide the same services.

"At that cost, they can use Parkland," he said.

Dickey, a frequent Price opponent, said his opposition is based on the fact that she supports the program.

"I think this is probably retaliation for people that he doesn't care for," she said.

Commissioner Elba Garcia, a practicing dentist, said she wants more answers but supports the expanded health care plan.

"And I see that it's a great opportunity for Dallas County for small business," said Garcia, a Democrat.

County Judge Clay Jenkins wanted more details resolved but also supported the Central Texas plan.

"You talked about 30,000 small businesses with one to five employees -- that's a potential capitation group of a 150,000 people," Jenkins said.

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