The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Monday, September 3, 2012
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
The Free Clinic of Franklin County is getting ready to deal with the effects of the health care reform law.
Lois McDonald, the clinic's director, told the board of supervisors recently that the clinic is expanding its services to be ready for an influx of new patients who may obtain insurance, but have limited access to medical care.
McDonald said there are now more than 10,000 Franklin County residents who don't have health insurance but may be covered under the Affordable Health Care Act provisions.
"Franklin County is already medically underserved," she said. "Who will take care of them (when the health care act insurance requirement provision takes effect in 2014)?"
In a letter to supporters, McDonald pointed out that a recent survey by Carilion Clinic predicts an even greater shortage of Franklin County primary care physicians in the near future due to the retirement eligibility status of three of their current 11.3 primary care providers.
With health care reform, the problems associated with that shortage will be exacerbated.
McDonald said residents from other counties are also seeking medical services here.
"Access to health care has been a long-standing problem in this rural county and neighboring counties," she said. "It will be an even greater crisis with health care reform in 2014."
To cope with this, McDonald said the Free Clinic's board of directors is expanding services, creating the Bernard Health Care Center.
The center will be classified as a Rural Health Clinic and be eligible to provide services to more patients on a sliding fee scale, as well as accept Medicaid, Medicare and other third-party insurers.
Currently, the Free Clinic accepts only uninsured adults between the ages of 18 and 64 who are at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
With the change, the center will be able to provide services with a sliding fee scale discount to many who now don't qualify for services, patients with insurance and those over 64 years old.
"This not only adds to current primary care resources of the community, long-term, but also provides continuity of health care services as our current patients transition from uninsured to insured," McDonald said.
The Free Clinic will continue its services, remaining intact both in mission and services, she said, and be the non-profit parent corporation, doing business as the Bernard Healthcare Center, beginning Nov. 12.
The center is named after Jeanne Bernard, who founded the Free Clinic 20 years ago.
Virginia may "opt out" of Medicaid expansion as part of health care reform, she said. That would mean a majority of the clinic's patients will not become Medicaid-eligible, and they would be unable to receive federal tax credits to buy coverage in the new health insurance exchange.
"The need for Free Clinic services and rural health services will increase, not decrease," she said.
McDonald said the General Assembly won't address the opt out issue until 2013, and the clinic cannot wait to start preparations for whatever scenario emerges.