12 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY january 25-31, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com Since 2022, Kaiser Permanente has been making inroads into Monterey County. As far as public outreach, that has been largely in the form of charitable giving—to nonprofits Jacob’s Heart, Everyone’s Harvest and more. With $7.5 million, Kaiser was the largest private donor toward the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District’s 11th-hour acquisition of Watsonville Community Hospital. But the feelings of goodwill did not extend to Monterey County’s four hospitals. In 2021, Kaiser approached Natividad, Salinas Valley Health, Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and Mee Memorial asking if they’d accept Kaiser’s insurance. All four said no. But Kaiser insurance is accepted at Watsonville Community Hospital. And that’s critical to Kaiser’s plans to open at least one clinic in Monterey County. The California Department of Insurance requires insurers to have “provider network adequacy” so that customers can actually use their insurance. That requires an in-network hospital to be located within 30 minutes or 15 miles of a covered person’s residence or workplace. That means Kaiser could serve a swath of northern Monterey County customers, with or without additional local hospital participation. Kaiser is not just an insurance company but also a health care provider, serving primarily Kaiser-insured patients—which is what concerns local hospital leaders. If Kaiser siphons off privately insured patients—whose insurers pay more to providers than Medicare and Medi-Cal—it upends the reimbursement formula. Seeking lower-cost health care, various union groups are advocating for Kaiser locally, with a campaign asking Natividad to accept the insurance. “I will continue to fight for access to health care,” says County Supervisor Wendy Root Askew, who is championing a new county clinic in Marina. “If Kaiser can offer that—excellent, I am thrilled. If Kaiser can only offer that for a portion of my residents, we need to continue this conversation.” Kaiser plans to move into Salinas, and submitted a building permit application in September, and city officials approved the permit on Dec. 20. Sources say Kaiser is also exploring a second location, possibly in Marina. Kaiser representatives declined to speak in detail, but in a written statement, confirm plans to serve Monterey County: “We are excited to respond to calls from businesses and individuals who have long asked that we bring Kaiser Permanente to the area.” Property tax checks in Monterey County are no longer headed for Salinas. For the first time when last month’s Dec. 10 deadline rolled along, all property owners who paid by check using a provided envelope sent their payments to a contractor in Whittier. The change was phased in over a year-and-a-half, after the check processing equipment at county headquarters was becoming too old to use and too expensive to replace, says County of Monterey Tax Collector and Treasurer Mary Zeeb. A contractor was determined to be more cost-efficient. The new address took some taxpayers by surprise, especially when some noticed their checks weren’t clearing for weeks after sending them to Whittier. Zeeb calls what happened to those payments “isolated,” compared to the over 150,000 checks that are processed. “We’re talking handfuls,” she says. The contractor, RT Lawrence Corporation, offers an automated “payment processing lockbox service” that processes the checks and deposits them directly into a county bank account. It’s estimated to cost approximately $45,000-$50,000 this year. Besides the new process for accepting checks, Zeeb says that in October, she instituted a new way to pay in monthly installments with a service at no cost to the county. The company Easy Smart Pay receives monthly payments through users’ bank accounts, credit or debit cards, and then pays the county in April and December when taxes are due. The company holds the money it collects from taxpayers in an account and uses it to make liquid investments following state regulations, according to the ESP website. There is a 1.99-percent fee for using a credit card, but e-checks cost the user nothing. “I try to give taxpayers as many options as I can, especially if it doesn’t cost the county any money,” Zeeb says. Property taxes can also be paid by credit card or e-check over the phone or online at co.ca. us/taxcollector, small fees do apply depending on the method. Plan Ahead Kaiser Permanente is at work on a Salinas location, and eyeing a spot in Marina. By Sara Rubin news Taxing Times Every year, United Way Monterey County leads the VITA program, pairing volunteer tax preparers with low-income residents to help them file their income taxes. Volunteers are needed for roles as intake specialists to help clients prepare the correct documents. Learn what’s required at upcoming training sessions. 2pm and 6pm Thursday, Jan. 25, 10am Saturday, Jan. 27 English training; 2pm and 6pm Friday, Jan. 26 and 2pm Saturday, Jan. 27 Spanish training. Makerspace in the Community Impact Center, United Way Monterey County, 232 Monterey St., Suite 200, Salinas. Free. 318-1998, lizeth.carmona@unitedwaymcca.org, unitedwaymcca.org/ vita-volunteer. Winter Ready Get updates on winter storm preparedness, how to make an emergency plan, sign up for notifications and more at a workshop hosted by the County of Monterey. The following week, the City of Soledad leads a winter readiness event, hosted by Soledad PD and Cal Fire. 5:30-8:30pm Thursday, Jan. 25 at San Pablo de Colores Hall, 505 San Juan Road, Pajaro. Free. 796-1900, co.monterey.ca.us. 5pm Wednesday, Jan. 31 at Soledad Community Center, 560 Walker Drive, Soledad. Free. communityengagement@cityofsoledad.com. Soup’s Up The Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum hosts the 29th annual Drury Tankersley Clam Chowder Dinner. This benefit dinner also provides a chance to sample Salinas Valley flavors from a wine bar featuring local wines. 3-7pm takeout, 5-7:30pm dinner Friday, Jan. 26. Orradre Building, Salinas Valley Fairgrounds, 625 Division St., King City. $20. 385-8020, mcarlm.org. Search Party Pacific Grove is recruiting a new city manager and seeking community input on what to prioritize. Weigh in through an online survey on what’s important to you in the hiring process. Survey is available at surveymonkey. com/r/GYB9GCS or cityofpacificgrove. org. Social Trends Monterey County Works is rolling out its Technology Cadre, a paid internship, in which young people (ages 18-24) have access to a mentor and learn new skills to build a resume in marketing and social media. Friday, Feb. 2 is the last day to register; internships begin Tuesday, Feb. 20. 333-6177, riosa1@co.monterey.ca.us, montereycountyworks.com. Payment Plan Monterey County tax collector brings changes to how property taxes are collected. By Pam Marino Kaiser’s 30,618-square-foot location is in a former Babies ‘R’ Us on North Davis Road in Salinas. The earliest it could open is 2025, based on state agency filing timelines. e-mail: publiccitizen@mcweekly.com TOOLBOX “If Kaiser can offer that—excellent, I am thrilled.” Daniel Dreifuss