Health Care Reform Will Help People In Mendocino County

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Above: Linnea Hunter, CEO

October 2013

My name is Linnea Hunter, and I am the Chief Executive Officer of Mendocino Community Health Clinic (MCHC), a federally qualified health center with a mission to provide access to care for all. Since health care reform is in the news and on people’s minds, I thought I’d share my thoughts. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has tremendous potential. It shifts health care in America from a focus on sickness to a focus on prevention and wellness; providing for better, less expensive care in the process.

Within a year or so, right here in Mendocino County, we’re likely to feel the effects of the ACA in reduced Emergency Room wait times, increased access to primary care physicians, and lower cost prescription medications. People in our community will become healthier overall, in part because chronic diseases will be managed more effectively–so people won’t need as much emergency care.

Let’s say you have diabetes. Health care organizations will focus on providing nutrition education and stronger encouragement for regular blood tests to keep the diabetes under control because their payment from the federal government depends, in part, on their patients staying healthy. A blood test is much less expensive than having a foot amputation, which is what can happen when diabetes gets way out of control.

Also, people who weren’t eligible for health insurance before will become eligible for it, so they will be more likely to seek care before their health issue becomes a crisis. Along those same lines, preventive care like mammogram screenings are covered, so illness can be identified and treated sooner and less expensively. These changes will save patients and taxpayers money!

One of the ways the ACA expands health care insurance is by making more people eligible for Medi-Cal. Right now, people at and below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are eligible; however, in January people with household incomes up to 138 percent of FPL will also be eligible. Poverty guidelines are based on family size so, for example, a family of four with two dependents is considered in poverty if they make $23,550 or less a year. The new guidelines will allow these same households to make up to $32,499 and still be eligible. That’s a big jump and is estimated to affect about 4,000 people in Mendocino County. (For more FPL details, go to http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/13poverty.cfm#guidelines.)

Even if you don’t qualify for Medi-Cal, you may qualify for reduced cost health insurance. Go to www.coveredca.com and use the Shop and Compare Tool – it allows you to enter your family size, number of dependents, income, and location to choose from several levels of insurance with varying deductibles and copayments.           

People can sign up now for the new plans, and they will go into effect January 1, 2014. Local health clinics and Mendocino County Health and Human Services have hired outreach coordinators to help people register.

After a so many years in health care, I’m happy to see that we are moving in a direction that saves money and provides better care for the people in our community.

 

Next: Dr. Karen Crabtree Named UVMC Physician of the Year →