December 20, 2014

Elyria
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HEALTH CARE RULING: Health & Dentistry already getting boost from health law

LORAIN — There were plenty of smiles from staff and patients at Lorain County Health & Dentistry on Thursday following the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Mom Allyson Carroll said she’s glad Health & Dentistry exists because she paid just $25 for her own dental cleaning and nothing for her children, 6-year-old Andrew Zahner and 3-year-old Evan Zahner, whose cleanings were covered by Medicaid.

“It’s easy and close to home,” said Carroll. “I like this place, although it takes a little longer.”

The 5-to-4 decision was a big relief to Stephanie Wiersma, Health & Dentistry’s president and CEO.

“We applaud the Supreme Court ruling because it will improve access to care for millions of uninsured Americans,” Wiersma said.

ObamaCare has already pumped $6.6 million into Health & Dentistry for its new headquarters under construction in the former Gel-Pac building on Broadway in Lorain and $495,000 for the opening of two Elyria locations in the next several months, Wiersma said.

Health & Dentistry is a private, nonprofit, federally qualified health center with a mission to provide primary and preventive health care to all, including vulnerable populations.

“Community health centers will benefit from growth and expansion because the Affordable Health Care Act set aside $11 billion for growth and expansion of community health centers to provide primary and preventative care,” Wiersma said.

Health & Dentistry plans to open an Elyria location with about 5,000 square feet in the area around EMH Medical Center, while a smaller site with about 1,500 square feet will be at Wilkes Villa, a Lorain Metropolitan Housing Authority complex on the city’s south side.

It hopes to have its downtown Elyria site open by late October or early November, followed by the second site by the end of the year, Wiersma said.

Health & Dentistry offers a sliding fee scale for qualifying uninsured patients. The nominal fee for a medical visit for an uninsured patient whose total household income is at or below the federal poverty level is $20 and a dental visit costs $25.

Wiersma is doing a great job in pushing for better care for the uninsured and underinsured, said Dan Hawkins, policy director for the National Association of Community Health Centers in Washington, D.C.

Hawkins said there is some concern the Supreme Court ruling weakens the expansion of Medicaid in 2014 to cover some of the 16 million eligible low-income people with no affordable coverage alternative.

“It leaves states open to the option not to expand Medicaid,” Hawkins said.

He said he was hopeful that all states would eventually get on board because the federal government would pick up 93 percent of the cost between 2014 when the program is to begin and 2022.

“I think most — if not all — states even the most conservative, will choose to go with the Medicaid expansion,” Hawkins said. “For even the most conservative governor, that’s an untenable decision to deny coverage to the poorest of the poor.”

Even though the Affordable Care Act requires most people to purchase insurance — and fines them if they don’t — there will be plenty of business for community health centers, he said.

“They will care for you no matter what the changes in your circumstances,” Hawkins said. “If you lose your health insurance, they’ll continue to care for you through thick and thin.”

Hawkins said the fine for those who don’t buy insurance will likely prompt the uninsured to consider buying insurance.

“The question will be, ‘Why not pay a little more and get the coverage?’ ” he said.

In Virginia, motorists pay $500 to the state if they have no auto insurance to help cover the costs of any accident and the fine in the Affordable Care Act would serve a similar purpose, he said.

He said many low- to moderate-income people will have access to tax credits to help purchase gold, silver or bronze coverage through health insurance exchanges for truly needed care, but not such things as plastic surgery.

“Essential health benefits is the key term,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he was impressed with the decision of Chief Justice John Roberts to be part of the majority when Justice Anthony Kennedy chose to side with Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

“It speaks remarkably to this man’s place in history,” Hawkins said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.