Community Health Clinics had concerns over the stalled GOP ACA legislation

Updated: Mar. 24, 2017 at 7:13 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A local community health center chief medical officer said Friday afternoon he is delighted the GOP's legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act was not rushed through the process.

Republicans pulled the bill not long before it was scheduled to be voted on because of a lack of sufficient support in the U.S. House.

In the days leading up to the vote some conservative republicans did not think the bill erased enough of the ACA which was former President Barack Obama's signature law, while there was growing concern inside the U.S. Capitol and across the country after the Congressional Budget Office concluded that millions of Americans would lose coverage they now have if the proposed American Health Care Act became law.

The ACA benefited community health centers and some were nervous about not only future funds but also the future of Medicaid under the GOP's plan.

Dr. Keith Winfrey, M.D., MPH., Chief Medical Officer of the New Orleans East Louisiana Community Health Center said the services they provide should not be under-estimated.

"Better access to preventive screenings, whether it's cancer screenings, immunizations…We like to focus on improving diabetes care, hypertension management and reducing inequality that exists, as well," said Dr. Winfrey.

And the ACA, which the GOP did not succeed in repealing and replacing this week, provided billions to help community clinics broaden their reach and resources.

"Some of the benefit came from just sort of enhanced services that we provide. So in addition to having primary care provider, we have a team-based care, we have care coordinators, we have other healthcare educators that work with the patients to assist them in getting screened for cancer, assist them with getting resourced to manage their chronic diseases, so it really allows for a team-based care," said Dr. Winfrey.

"The Affordable Care Act provided some large pools of funding that went to community health centers and those were really important and remain important and community health centers often rely on patient funding to survive," said Mollye Demonsthenidy, a health policy expert in Tulane University's Department of Global Health Management and Policy.

"We don't know what's going to happen going forward but I would prefer that they just take their time to get it right."

Dr. Winfrey said he is delighted congress did not rush to unravel the ACA.

"What we know is that although ACA may not be perfect, it does allow for coverage of over 20 million Americans. And so unless there's a way that will keep premiums from rising even higher than what's already anticipated, still provide the same 10 essential benefits, I would suggest they leave it the way it is until something better can be worked out,"  Dr. Winfrey stated.

A big concern for the local health care community and health policy experts is a part of the republicans' plan that would cap Medicaid funds to state and roll back Medicaid Expansion. In Louisiana alone, over 400,000 of the working poor have coverage because of expanded Medicaid eligibility.

"That would then put more stress on our state which is already under a lot of stress just trying to fix budget deficits as it is. So I really got concerned when they were looking to cut Medicaid or just reduce it to Block Grants because I really don't think that's going to be the answer for our state in particular," said Dr. Winfrey.

And the early care that people get at community clinics reduce the odds of them ending up in local emergency rooms," according to health professionals.

"We know that the healthier population, one allows for a healthier workforce, two it allows for a reduction in health care spending and then overall it allows for better outcomes in general," said Dr. Winfrey

The Kaiser Family Foundation which researches health policies said in 2015, 76-percent of community health center patients were insured and 49 percent through Medicaid. A large portion of the patients at the NOELA clinic have Medicaid coverage, as well.

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