Health care law could increase client list for Butler County health clinic
For the working poor of Butler County, the Community Health Clinic of Butler County is a safe place to land in hard times.
“If it wasn't for the clinic, I wouldn't be able to get my medications,” said Doris Pintea, a 59-year-old Butler resident, who lost her health insurance in 1998 when her husband died.
The clinic, which provides free health care to age- and income-eligible county residents without health insurance, helped 2,085 people last year — the highest number in its five-year history. But changes in the health care landscape nationally are expected to affect the clinic and the people it serves.
Cecelia Foster, the clinic's executive director, expects more people to become eligible for clinic services under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, but that some current clients may be able to afford health care plans offered under the law and leave the clinic.
The enrollment period begins Oct. 1.
The law mandates that most individuals have health insurance; it provides subsidies to help pay premiums and penalizes people who can afford coverage but don't get it. It imposes penalties on businesses with 50 or more full-time workers that don't offer coverage.
There is a misconception that the law will ensure health care for everyone in the U.S., said Beth Foringer, the clinic's director of case management.
“There are going to be subsidies for people within the federal poverty guidelines, but individuals earning zero to $11,000 a year do not qualify (for subsidies),” Foster said.
“Or people might be able to afford it, but if there's a choice between buying food and paying for health care, which are they going to choose? They're going to feed themselves,” Foringer said.
Critics of the law say some businesses are reducing numbers of full-time workers to part-time to avoid penalties.
The clinic, which opened in 2008, is part of the Volunteers In Medicine alliance, a network of free, primary health care clinics for the uninsured. Jean Purvis, secretary of the Butler clinic's board of directors, led the charge to open the clinic, along with other community leaders. Purvis toured a Volunteer in Medicine clinic in Hilton Head, S.C., and felt the model would work well in Butler County.
“This is a shining example of what's right with health care,” Foster said.
Physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists and medical administrators donate their time. Last year, their hours were worth an estimated $198,000, according to the clinic's annual report.
The clinic has three full-time paid administrators.
It offers diabetes education and management and behavioral health care. It supplies patients with prescriptions through the Prescription Assistance Program run by pharmaceutical companies. More than $476,000 in prescription medications were dispensed in 2012 at no cost to the patients, according to clinic data.
Judging from a patient satisfaction survey conducted in May, the clinic has helped keep people out of emergency rooms, which can be expensive for the patient and the hospital, Foster said.
Patients typically stay with the clinic from 18 months to two years, but there are no restrictions. It works to find jobs for patients that offer benefits, or helps to get patients into a federal or state assistance program that fits their income, Foster said.
Foster said the clinic is funded by grants, corporate giving and private donors. It receives no federal funding. It is one of two free clinics in Western Pennsylvania that belongs to the Volunteers In Medicine alliance. The other is in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Pintea said she would like to get her own health insurance and hopes the Affordable Care Act will make that possible. Before the clinic opened, she said, she paid out of pocket to her family doctor and avoided visits to the dentist or any specialists.
Since being a patient at the clinic, she has seen primary care physicians, dentists, a dermatologist and a podiatrist.
“Most of our patients want to buy insurance,” Foringer said. “They don't want to rely on others.”
Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.