Where Community Health Centers fit in healthcare reform
Community Health Centers are a health care option for those without insurance. Many of these Centers are taking a lead role in signing people up for insurance through the state health exchanges starting in March. In Libby, the Northwest Community Health Center has expanded in the past few years, with plans to continue to grow to meet the ongoing demand. Executive Director Maria Clemons said they served nearly 2000 patients in 2003. By 2012 that number jumped to more than 6,000.
“Community Health Centers throughout the nation provide primary care to underserved communities, our target is the uninsured and underinsured, but we do serve everybody,” Clemons said the Health Center provides comprehensive health care including primary care, dental, and behavioral health.
Clemons said about 40% of the patients they see in Libby do not have insurance. She says about 1200 of the Center’s patients who are currently uninsured will not be eligible for any assistance from the Affordable Care Act because Medicaid was not expanded in Montana.
“So, when Medicaid became a choice for states, it left this loophole of some really poor people who now have no option when the Affordable Care Acts intent was to provide options for everybody. So, that’s a struggle; it’s a struggle for them, it’s a struggle for organizations trying to provide them care,” Clemons said.
Clemons said currently patients at the Health Center are charged on a sliding scale depending on what they can pay, and a federal grant covers the difference. She said that may or may not change as provisions of the Affordable Care Act move forward because it’ll be determined on a state-by-state basis.
What they’re working on right now is getting the information out there about the health insurance exchanges, and signing people up for insurance.
The Community Health Center in Libby recently received an $87,000 grant to hire 2-full-time employees to help sign people up for health insurance through the new health insurance exchanges. According to Senator Max Baucus’ office these are two of 27 being hired throughout the state as “Navigators” through the Affordable Care Act.
Montana has 17 Community Health Centers total.