Community health centers welcome reform

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The new health care law that was signed on March 23 has been a much needed reform. According to the Census Bureau’s website, in 2008, 19.1 percent of African-Americans were without health insurance. And as the unemployment rate continues to rise, the percentage does as well. Rising health care costs have been labeled as a cause of bankruptcy among many Americans. Many feel that with this new law comes a new hope.

“The new law, which is an expansion of health care, is a welcomed development,” said Guillarmo Cole, public information spokesman for the Allegheny County Department of Health. “It will expand the access of health care which is a good thing.” In 2002 the county Department of Health conducted a survey that found 10 percent of adults in Allegheny County had no health insurance. While it was below the state average of 13 percent and the national average of 14 percent, Cole said it was still unacceptable. “We are currently conducting a similar survey, so while I do not have the actual numbers, I am sure that figure is in the neighborhood of 10 percent, probably more with the economy and the job loss.”

For many individuals without health insurance or medical assistance, community health centers in various neighborhoods are the primary source for medical attention because they offer primary health care at a no-cost or discounted rate.

“I think it is wonderful that legislation has passed a law that says health care is a priority,” said Wilford Payne, executive director of the Alma Illery Medical Center in Homewood. “Community health centers have in the past been seen as a safety net and have been key (to the treatment of individuals).”

Dr. Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, president of The Gateway Medical Society, a chapter of the National Medical Association, said that the society supports the passage of this landmark decision and that by offering insurance and preventative care to millions, it will ultimately save trillions of dollars now associated with health care costs. She added, “No one is naive to think that this will be an easy fix to a system that has been a major contributor to the disparities in health access and delivery of optimal care for many of the under-resourced communities all physicians serve.”

Larkins-Pettigrew said the NMA and the GMS believe that the law will reorient the system toward prevention and wellness; reform insurance markets so that insured patients will receive better benefits, and patients outside the health care system have access to more affordable coverage; strengthen Medicare and Medicaid and protect the safety net; give doctors more tools with which they can better coordinate care and improve health outcomes; and increases system efficiency and reduces costs.

Adagio Health offers preventative screenings and treatments for those who cannot afford health care. Rick Baird, CEO of Adagio, said he is in complete support of the new health care law and that it is a step in the right direction because it will allow them to see and treat more people.

One of the most popular services Adagio’s offers is breast and cervical cancer testing to women 40 to 64 years old. “There are about 120,000 women in that age bracket in Pennsylvania that currently do not have health insurance. Right now we are able to only see 10 percent of those women,” said Baird. “But with the new law, more women will be able to get the necessary tests, which is a tremendous benefit (in the fight against cancer and prevention). Breast cancer is the number one cause of death among African-American.”

While many are for the new law, there are some that are skeptical about it and how it will help Americans.

“While we’re gratified that the legislation will create an opportunity for the millions (who are uninsured or underinsured), we would not want to say that it is perfect,” said David Brewton, assistant executive director of the East Liberty Family Health Care Center, located in East Liberty and Lincoln-Lemington. He added that the center is concerned that the law does not do anything to address the continued rising cost of health care. And as the costs continue to rise, there will still be challenges.

Payne believes that more development is needed. As more money is put into the budget to expand health centers, there needs to be an increase of mental health services and integration into the primary care system.

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