Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

November 28, 2012

Editorial: Changes for Affordable Care Act

As the structure of the federal Affordable Care Act begins to come into focus, a couple things seem clear: the promised emphasis on providing universal health care appears to be for real, as does the emphasis on having everyone contribute at least something for their health care.

Traverse Health Clinic, which since the mid-1970s has offered free primary care and access to specialty services for adults 19 to 64 from Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau counties, is looking for funding to help make the transition to meet requirements to become a federally qualified health center. That would bring federal funding including enhanced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement. There's a higher designation the clinic subsequently hopes to achieve that would attract additional grant money.

"Right now we are funded through what are called indigent care dollars," said clinic chief executive officer Arlene Brennan. "Local funds are used to obtain matching federal dollars for indigent care programs."

She said major cuts in traditional revenue loom by the end of 2013.

Because — in theory, at least — there won't be people who don't have some type of coverage, funding for them will be diverted to other types of programs. But a "substantial number" will still go uncovered, she said.

As part of its transition funding, the Traverse Health Clinic received a $100,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The clinic has eliminated age restrictions and now sees children and senior citizens, and residency requirements have been lifted; visits could increase 15 to 18 percent in the first year alone.

The clinic already bills Medicaid, but it will institute a sliding fee schedule and expand billing operations. The clinic will hire a nurse health educator and ensure ongoing funding for existing dental and mental health programs.

The Blue Cross funding will go toward the estimated $200,000-plus it will cost the clinic to make the transition so it can qualify for federal funds. The insurer has funded free health clinics like Traverse City's around Michigan for at least the past seven years, a spokesman said.

The aim then was to have a health care "access point" where those in need could get care before they ended up in the emergency room.

Brennan said she hopes other grants come through to help defray further expenses.

Even after the transition, the clinic's underlying role will remain the same, she said.

"(I)f someone is truly indigent, we could never turn them away and that's always been our mission."

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