Community Health Centers, a safety net for those without insurance.

 In Being Healthy, Conditions & Treatments
Community Health Centers Provide a Helping Hand

It was a beautiful summer day when Teresa came to Kaniksu Health Services with her two kids in tow. It was nearing the start of a new school year and her kids, ages 7 and 9 needed check-ups and updated immunizations. With limited income from her full-time job, Teresa is always hesitant to spend money on herself, including preventive healthcare. After her kids’ exams, Teresa learned that she could get a much-needed check-up and the sliding fee payment option made it possible for her to pay on her own. Like many Idahoans, Teresa does not have health insurance and does not qualify for coverage through the Medicaid program.

Teresa’s story plays out every day at health centers across our great state. Non-profit health centers just like Kaniksu and Heritage Health meet the healthcare needs of hard working members of our North Idaho communities. Right now, over 170,000 Idahoans receive primary healthcare at one of the state’s non-profit community health centers. These centers are locally operated healthcare systems offering comprehensive primary and preventive care related to family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics. Health centers support all aspects of a healthy life by providing high quality and affordable services to everyone. For those who are uninsured or underinsured, a sliding-fee payment scale encourages access and allows a patient to take greater responsibility for their health.

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Kaniksu Health Services Ad

Teresa’s story plays out every day at health centers across our great state. Non-profit health centers just like Kaniksu and Heritage Health meet the healthcare needs of hard working members of our North Idaho communities. Right now, over 170,000 Idahoans receive primary healthcare at one of the state’s non-profit community health centers. These centers are locally operated healthcare systems offering comprehensive primary and preventive care related to family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics. Health centers support all aspects of a healthy life by providing high quality and affordable services to everyone. For those who are uninsured or underinsured, a sliding-fee payment scale encourages access and allows a patient to take greater responsibility for their health.

Idahoans are struggling

However, not perfect, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has improved access to healthcare for Idahoans. The most notable success is the state insurance marketplace, Your Health Idaho. Recognized as one of the most successful in the nation, Idaho’s state run (not federal) provides a program to improve and build upon. Unfortunately, the picture is not rosy for everyone in the Gem State:

  • 13% of Idahoans are uninsured (U.S. Census);
  • 92% of Idaho’s Medicaid enrollees are low-income children, seniors, people with disabilities and low-income pregnant women (Idaho Dept. of Health & Welfare);
  • Idaho’s Medicaid eligibility criteria is among the most restrictive in the nation;
  • Adults without dependent children are not eligible for Medicaid in Idaho;
  • An estimated 78,000 Idahoans are in the “coverage gap;”
  • Idaho is one of 19 states that have not expanded Medicaid, leaving those estimated 78,000 Idahoans in the “coverage gap.” These are our family, friends and neighbors who do not qualify for traditional Medicaid and earn too little to qualify for assistance through the insurance marketplace.
  • Idahoans in the “coverage gap” are working. The top ten occupations include restaurant/food service, construction, childcare, animal production, landscaping, hotel industry, crop production, business support services (including call centers), entertainment/recreation and personal care support.

What is a health center?

America’s Health Centers owe their existence to a remarkable turn of events in U.S. history, and to a number of determined community health and civil rights activists who fought more than 50 years ago to improve the lives of Americans living in deep poverty and in desperate need of health care.  Since then, health centers have been, and continue to be, innovators of public health and act as a safety net for those without health insurance or for those who are underinsured.

In Idaho, community health centers provide healthcare to over 170,000 people. This means that one in ten Idahoans is served by a health center, including 44,000 children and over 5,400 veterans. Federal tax dollars help sustain health centers and this investment enables these centers to fulfill their missions of providing healthcare to Idahoans who may not otherwise have access to care.

Health centers in Idaho – and across the nation – enjoy longstanding bipartisan support from presidential administrations and Members of Congress. Policy makers recognize that health centers save Idaho’s healthcare system in costs from preventable hospitalizations and avoidable emergency room visits from patients. Health centers also contribute significant cost savings for the American taxpayer, saving an average of $2,371, or 24 percent, in total spending per Medicaid patient when compared to other providers, according to a recent study. But health centers are much more than just another health care program. They are problem-solvers that look beyond medical charts not only to prevent illness but also address the factors that actually cause poor health, such as homelessness, lack of nutrition, stress or unemployment.

What healthcare services are available?

Idaho’s non-profit health centers provide patient-centered, integrated care that is convenient and comprehensive. Patients can receive medical, dental and behavioral healthcare through a team-based approach. Medical care includes family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics, with a focus on chronic disease management. Patients may also access dental care (exams, cleanings, fillings, extractions, minor surgery) and behavioral healthcare (prevention, screening and treatment of common mental health disorders). Health centers provide pharmacy services either on-site or through a partnership to ensure low cost medications for all patients regardless of income or insurance status. Additionally, health centers conduct outreach to community residents who lack access to health care and other critical services that contribute to health and well-being (help with insurance enrollment and access to community services).

Whats next?

As Congress prepares to reconvene, healthcare reform is one of the many serious policy discussions in the mix. Though the future of healthcare reform is unknown, Idaho’s health centers will continue to provide high quality medical, dental and behavioral healthcare for Idahoans across the state. By doing so, we hope to provide an example of what is working in our healthcare system.

by Olivia Luther Morlen, Director of Community Relations Kaniksu Health Services

Olivia Luther Morlen has a strong mix of both for-profit and non-profit management skills. She received her BA in Art History and Public Relations from SDSU and an MPhil in Art History from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Originally from Southern California, Olivia has been living in Sandpoint since 2011. She works as both the Director of Community Relations for Kaniksu Health Services and Executive Director of the Bonner County History Museum and believes that a community centered organization is better positioned to remain relevant and vibrant.

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