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Deputy secretary of Health tours New Kensington clinic

Mary Ann Thomas
| Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Dr. Loren Robinson, Pennsylvania deputy secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, right, talks with Raji Jayakrishnan, executive director of the Community Health Clinic, while on a visit to the New Kensington clinic on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
Dr. Loren Robinson, Pennsylvania deputy secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, right, talks with Raji Jayakrishnan, executive director of the Community Health Clinic, while on a visit to the New Kensington clinic on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.

Health insurance needs for behavioral health and low-income patients not covered by Medicaid were among the issues presented Thursday by a New Kensington clinic to a state deputy secretary of Health.

Community Health Clinic Inc. officials invited Dr. Loren Robinson, deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention for the state Health Department, to discuss clinic issues and to tour the facility at 943 Fourth Ave. in New Kensington.

Area government, social and religious leaders were on hand to discuss local issues with Robinson as part of National Health Center Week.

The clinic is a nonprofit community health center offering medical, behavioral and dental health care. It charges patients based on their ability to pay.

“The good news is the Medicaid expansion has resulted in less uninsured and people are getting quality care,” said Raji Jayakrishnan, the clinic's executive director.

The clinic experienced an increase of more than 40 percent in patient visits in the past year, climbing to more than 8,000 visits in 2015, she said. The state's Medicaid program expanded under the federal Affordable Care Act, informally called Obamacare.

About 37 percent of the clinic's patients were uninsured last year, down from 50 percent in 2014, Jayakrishnan said.

Gaps in coverage, need

However, people who earn wages just above the income threshold for Medicaid can't afford health insurance, Jayakrishnan said of some who use the clinic.

“There needs to be another layer, a bridge for these folks,” Robinson said.

Robinson acknowledged that this swatch of uninsured patients is widespread and needs to be addressed by the state Department of Human Services. Although the state Health Department does not administer the Medicaid program, its staff voices its concerns about such health issues, she said.

Jayakrishnan asked about helping another critical segment of her patients: those trying to secure health care coverage for behavioral problems.

While the clinic takes an integrated health approach, offering services of physical and behavioral medical services, health insurance companies aren't covering the behavioral services, she said.

“We need behavioral health coverage for people with issues such as depression and anxiety, which is prevalent in this area,” Jayakrishnan said.

The state Department of Human Services, again, would handle insurance coverage of behavioral health, Robinson said.

“From a public health standpoint, the preferred model of health care is the integrated model,” said Robinson. “The health of the family involves the emotional and physical.”

There are already discussions about these issues in Harrisburg, Robinson said. She said her visit would add to that dialogue.

Visiting the New Kensington clinic, as well as others, was an opportunity to see what issues they were struggling with, she said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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