Health Centers in California Are Ready for Expanded Coverage

hchWe like to hear stories about how Community Health Centers are preparing for the influx of patients gaining access to insurance coverage. Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, Inc. (CHC) is a case in point. The health center is the main provider of primary care to people on Medi-Cal in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties and is gearing up to provide a medical home to the newly insured.  As a recent article in the local San Luis Obispo newspaper, The Tribune, reported, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), an estimated  one million more adult Californians are expected to be eligible for coverage, including nearly 20 thousand residents of San Luis Obispo County.

“This is what we have been waiting for,” said Ron Castle Chief Executive Officer of CHC. ”Now that the ACA is a reality, and patients can gain much-needed access to coverage, we are doing all we can do prepare for increased demand.”

The health center, which was started out of a four room house in 1978, is poised to increase its staff to meet the demand for care and expanding facilities, as evidenced by the new 28,000 square foot site in Nipomo which was constructed with the help of ACA funds. The spacious new health center offers extended hours and a full range of medical services for patients of all ages– including optometry, pediatrics, Women’s Health (OB-GYN)dentistry, chiropractic care, mental health, nutrition and laboratory services. .

Castle wants to create more “supercenters” like the Nipomo site so more patients can have access to care where they live and work. Given the growth and expansion of the CHC network over the years (CHC now operates 26 licensed clinics, serves 90,000 patients a year and employs 570 people) and the expected demand for care, this kind of reach seems not only plausible, but necessary.

And patients like Nathan Appel would agree. Appel is a freelance photographer from Santa Maria. According to The Tribune, he received his Medi-Cal card in the mail last week after spending out of pocket for mental health services and medication. Previously, he was paying on a sliding scale fee for services at CHC, and despite reduced fees and discounts on services, he was still forced to skip appointments to save money. But after receiving his insurance card, he used it at Walmart to pick up his medication.

“I pulled out my wallet to pay for it and saw the bill was zero. I just had to sign for it,” he told the newspaper. “I have never had anything like this happen before, where I didn’t have to worry about something as important as going to the doctor.”

CHC also continues to connect people with coverage as envisioned by the ACA. Since October 2013, CHC’s Certified Enrollment Counselors (CEC) have assisted over 1,200 patients with enrollment in Medi-Cal and the health insurance marketplace. “We are working day and night to assure that our patients can get established with their new health benefits as soon as possible,” said lead CEC Frederick Aguilera.

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