This week the focus is on the great work Community Health Centers are doing to connect people with insurance coverage as well as providing them a medical home. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sounded off their achievements yesterday in a teleforum call, saying, “I love Community Health Centers. I don’t think there is any question it is one of the best investments we can make in our country. Virtually everywhere I travel I meet folks who are alive today because of the care they received at one of your health centers.”
According to Secretary Sebelius health centers assisted and educated more than two million people about their health insurance options and trained nearly 11,000 staff to assist with enrollment.
The call, hosted by NACHC, included representatives from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), El Rio Health Center in Arizona, CentroMed in Texas, and Health Partners of Western Ohio.
Also on the call was Richard Romanowski, a patient with Erie Family Health Center in Chicago, who expressed the gratitude about having both a medical home and coverage. We wrote about Mr. Romanowski in an earlier blog post. He is a musician and often took jobs with no insurance benefits to make ends meet. He has not owned an insurance card in 30 years. Yet, with the help of his doctor at Erie, Richard now has insurance coverage and, he says, “a new lease on life.” He told listeners that he no longer worries about how he will afford a doctor’s visit or his medications.
“It really is a good feeling and I feel healthier. Friends tell me I have a healthy glow. Things are looking up for me. I am very grateful for the health clinic that I go to,” said Romanowski. “They have straightened out my life for me.”
The call also featured representatives from health centers who shared a little about their outreach and enrollment efforts.
Kathy Byrne, CEO, El Rio Health Center which serves over 80,000 patients—57 percent which are Medicaid eligible— in Tucson, AZ, said the health center has 22 certified application counselors and two navigators. The staff are all bilingual and have assisted over 14,000 individuals with their enrollment process so far. The health center has a dedicated, staffed phone line just for enrollment questions and appointments. They have also conducted some inpatient reach, mailing 18,000 letters to patients that could qualify for subsidies or Medicaid. El Rio has also extended its hours with evening hours two days a week and is partnering with other local organizations so they don’t duplicate efforts at outreach events.
Ana Maria Garza-Cortez from CentroMed in San Antonio, TX, also mentioned her health center is working with local partners, including the Mayor of San Antonio. Working together they created the Enroll SA website to promote enrollment events. The health center also holds extended hours to accommodate patients in the evenings. So far CentroMed has helped over 10,800 people with their health insurance options. With a critical need for Spanish language help, the health center is also working with various libraries and universities to promote their services, setting-up computers and providing assistance on site.
Jolene Joseph, from Health Partners of Western Ohio (HPWO) in Lima, shared that of their 17,000 patients nearly 40 percent are uninsured. HPWO’s 11 certified application counselors have assisted over 2,400 people and completed over 1,000 applications. The health center has participated in health fairs, conducted presentations, sent letters, and also had articles placed in the local paper to reach the community. Partnering with university students, they also launched an enrollment blitz event that was advertised on television and radio.
Joseph also shared some HPWO success stories, including the story of a couple in their mid 50’s with significant health problems. The couple is on a fixed income and were unable to pay for regular doctors’ visits and medications because they were uninsured. They often had to be selective about which one would go to the doctor or purchase their medication from month to month. After meeting with an HPWO certified application counselor, they applied for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace and learned they would only be paying $40 dollars a month. Elated, they now no longer have to choose who will receive the care they need every month.
These testimonials and success stories are valuable in demonstrating how having coverage and access to care makes a difference. If you have a story to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.