The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


May 5, 2011

Additional free clinics could be on the horizon

SUNBURY—A bill approved unanimously by the Pennsylvania Senate Wednesday would develop and expand community-based health care clinics throughout the Valley.

Senate bill 5, co-sponsored by John Gordner, R-27, Berwick, establishes the framework to continue the growth of clinics to serve low-income and uninsured individuals. It would provide $35 million annually to the Department of Health for grants to community-based health care clinics  

One-half of the money would be used to expand existing clinics or develop new ones.  

Another quarter of the money would be used to improve prenatal, obstetric, postpartum and newborn care.  

Ten million dollars annually would be made available to the Department of Public Welfare for grants to hospital-based clinics only. And $5 million annually would be made available as tax credits to businesses that donate funds, products or services to a community-based health care clinic.

The maximum grant under the Department of Health’s program would be $500,000; those grants would need to be partially (25 percent) matched by other funds or services.

The state funds would be paid for by an excise tax on “other tobacco products” than cigarettes.

Dr. John Pagana, medical director, A Community Clinic, Sunbury, was unaware of the Senate bill, which has yet to be passed and reconciled with a House version of the bill before becoming law.”

“We’ll take any additional funding we can get,” he said, Wednesday afternoon.

Pagana explained that the Clinic is helping many people in the area. “We’re seeing more than 200 patients a week,” Pagana said. “We have five paid employees to deal with those patients.”

The prescription drug program is also critical to the community.

“I have seen people stop taking needed medication because it costs so much,” he said. “We can help, under the proper circumstances.”

Drug companies, last year contributed $3 million worth of medication to the Sunbury clinic, Pagana said.

The extra state funding should allow clinics to expand services and deal with even more patients.

“Society,” Pagana said, “is evaluated by how they treat the poor.”

Gordner agreed with Pagana.

“Community clinics, like the one operating in Sunbury, are cost-effective and provide high quality service to individuals who otherwise might not seek immediate medical treatment, or may seek costly treatment in hospital emergency rooms,” Gordner said. “These clinics are very effective in helping to control health care costs.”

Community health clinics provide primary health care to all patients without regard to their ability to pay.  This doesn’t mean the medical services are free; rather, these clinics use a sliding fee scale.  If the patient has health insurance, a community health clinic will collect payment from the insurer. But about 40 percent of clinic patients have no coverage of any kind.

Statewide, these other facts are startling.

 Currently, nearly 1 million working-age adults in Pennsylvania have no health insurance.  

Over a 2-year period of time (07-08), nearly 20 percent of working-age adults experienced at least 6 months when they had no coverage. Lack of coverage discourages individuals from seeking medical care; it also prompts some medical providers to deny services because of concern they will not be paid.  

Another 1.3 million Pennsylvania adults are under-insured, meaning that apart from the cost of insurance premiums, they spend more than 10 percent of their income on medical costs through deductibles, co-pays and fees for services that are excluded from coverage. Under-insured people are similarly deterred from seeking the medical care they need.

When people avoid prompt medical care, they are at risk of becoming sicker, suffering more than necessary, and ending up in emergency rooms where care is more expensive, Pagana said.

Meanwhile, large unpaid medical bills are often either discharged in bankruptcy court or paid by taxpayers.

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