Healthy SF: providing care, and peace of mind

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a six-part series on the Healthy San Francisco program, which provides nearly universal health care for the city’s residents. Each part of the series will examine the program through the eyes of different people in the community, including a patient, a doctor who runs a clinic, two employers with different views of the program, and a hospital administrator. To see the entire series, go here.

Aurelio Duran has always known he is lucky to live in San Francisco. At first, it was because he loved the city and its music scene. Today, it is also because San Francisco offers universal health care.

Duran, a machinist and singer who emigrated here from Ecuador more than 40 years ago, is a vigorous 64. He had a job at a company in Oakland that made artificial hearts and planned to work until he was 66.

Aurelio Duran, 64, is a retired machinist and singer who began receiving medical care through Healthy San Francisco two-and-a-half years ago after losing his job, having trouble with his own health insurance and suffering from kidney stones. Photo by Richard C. Paddock.

But starting in 2006, he experienced a run of bad luck: He was laid off when his employer went bankrupt. He couldn’t find another job and his unemployment insurance ran out after six months. And when he suffered a recurrence of excruciating kidney stones, he found his doctor no longer accepted his health insurance because of a dispute with the insurance company over reimbursement.

As Duran struggled to get the medical care he needed, he learned from a friend about Healthy San Francisco and its goal of ensuring that every San Franciscan receives adequate health care. Duran was delighted to discover that he was eligible – and that he did not have to pay a dime.

He enrolled in mid-2007 and made San Francisco General Hospital his medical “home.” His primary care physician referred him to various specialists; his kidney condition soon cleared up and he received an examination for glaucoma and treatment of a minor prostate problem.

Duran later put in for his pension and now pays $50 a month for Healthy San Francisco.

“I feel great,” he said as he sat in the living room of his home in the city’s Excelsior District. “Since three years ago, my health has improved greatly. The hospital is full of good doctors.”

Duran came to the U.S. from Ecuador in 1969 at age 24. He had served as a machinist for three years in the Ecuadorian Navy and in 1969, when the United States experienced a machinist shortage, he received a U.S. work permit.

In 1974, he paid $29,000 for the Excelsior house where he and his wife still live. For 20 years he sang in the Bay Area band “Sonido Cinco,” meaning Sound Five.

Today, he believes the care he receives through Healthy San Francisco has restored him to good health and will help him avoid the emergency room.

If the program wasn’t available? “I don’t want to think about it,” he said, “not even for my worst enemy.”

His situation will change again in June when he turns 65 and must switch to Medicare. He is anxious about the possibility of changing doctors, but will be pleased to have coverage throughout the country.

For Duran, like other patients, the biggest disadvantage of the city program is that it is limited to San Francisco. For now, he has no medical coverage whenever he leaves the city. He thinks twice about crossing the Bay Bridge, even for the afternoon.

“When I have something important to do, I have to take my chances,” he said. “Otherwise I would feel like a prisoner in my home.”

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