Health care for uninsured

Options weighed for federally funded clinic

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Physician's assistant Neilene Ronis knows there's a need for more health care services for uninsured and underinsured patients.

Every day, the waiting list exceeds the number of patients she sees because of the limited hours and resources at the Moffat County Care Clinic operated by The Memorial Hospital.

"Three hours a day is not enough time to serve everyone," she said. "There's a lot of people out there who don't have insurance, but there's going to be a lot more."

But health care leaders and other interested parties may have to prove there's an influx of uninsured and underinsured people seeking health care to create a clinic that will address those needs. That's the next step, community leaders and health care professionals said at a meeting Friday to discuss the idea's feasibility.

"The next logical step is to crunch data," said Sue Birch, executive director with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Creating a health care clinic in Moffat County for underinsured and uninsured patients could happen through different avenues. For the past 40 years, some areas in Colorado have created Community Health Centers. They are nonprofit and funded mostly by federal and state dollars. Requirements include offering dental, medical and mental health services for a population base of mostly uninsured and Medicaid patients. Only one such clinic is permitted per area.

Rural Health Care Centers are an independent option to serve needy patients. Requirements include that centers are in rural areas that have a shortage of health care providers. They also are nonprofit ventures that access government money. However, there are fewer requirements for health care services and staffing among Rural Health Care Centers.

Challenges include heading up dollars for capital projects for clinics, presenters said. However, clinics can be formed to incorporate existing nonprofit health care ventures such as the Moffat County Care Clinic and services provided by the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition.

Mindy Klowden, community development manager of Colorado Community Health Network said one of the questions she most often gets is whether clinics for uninsured patients will compete with current options by health care providers. She disputed that perception on the grounds that uninsured patients probably aren't seeking the care they need.

"It shouldn't be competing," Klowden said. "It should be complementary."

Currently, Ronis estimates the Moffat County Care Clinic serves about 50 patients a week. Eligibility is dependent on income and whether people have insurance. Still, patients' needs span further than medical care -- services which the clinic doesn't provide.

"People may come in and they have dental problems," she said. "It would work better if everyone was in the same building."

Many at the meeting Friday agreed to look further into the prospects of providing low-cost health care services for uninsured patients.

"Somehow we have to go forward with this," TMH Administrator Randy Phelps said. "I think that you and I are compelled to not close our eyes to the opportunity," he told Birch.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatte@craigdailypress.com

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