Friday, September 14, 2007

San Francisco trys something stupid

From The New York Times:

SAN FRANCISCO — Since contracting polio at age 2, Yan Ling Ho has lived with pain for most of her 52 years. After she immigrated here from Hong Kong last year, the soreness in her back and joints proved too debilitating for her to work.

That also meant she did not have health insurance. Not wanting to burden her daughter, who was already paying her living expenses, Ms. Ho delayed doctors’ visits and battled her misery with over-the-counter medications.

“Sometimes the pain was so bad, I would just cry,” she said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Last month, unable to bear her discomfort any longer, Ms. Ho went to North East Medical Services, a nonprofit community clinic on the edge of Chinatown, and discovered to her delight that she qualified for a new program that offers free or subsidized health care to all 82,000 San Francisco adults without insurance.

The initiative, known as Healthy San Francisco, is the first effort by a locality to guarantee care to all of its uninsured, and it represents the latest attempt by state and local governments to patch a inadequate federal system.

It is financed mostly by the city, which is gambling that it can provide universal and sensibly managed care to the uninsured for about the amount being spent on their treatment now, often in emergency rooms.

After a two-month trial at two clinics in Chinatown, the program is scheduled to expand citywide to 20 more locations on Sept. 17.

Whether such a program might be replicated elsewhere is difficult to assess. In addition to its unique political culture, San Francisco, with a population of about 750,000, has the advantages of compact geography, a unified city-county government, an extensive network of public and community clinics and a relatively small number of uninsured adults. Virtually all the city’s children are covered by private insurance or government plans.

And how long do you suppose it will take sick people from all over the nation (and the world, for that matter) to flock to San Francisco?

Some years back San Fran adopted an urban plan called "smart growth". This consists of severely restricting the construction of new housing and minimizing to the greatest extent possible the growth of suburbs.

This had the predictable effect of sending housing prices not just through the roof or into obit but past the escape velocity of the solar system where they are now halfway to Alpha Centauri. It also had the predicted and desirable - to the elites, although they'll never admit it - effect of driving most of the poor out of the city.

But now they've created a giant incentive for them to find a way back. It will be fun to see how they cope.