Thousands are in danger of losing healthcare

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by Diana Zoga / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on September 3, 2013 at 6:50 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 3 at 7:00 PM

  (KMOV) – Thousands of adults in the region are in danger of losing healthcare by the end of the year if a federal program is allowed to expire. 

The “Gateway to Better Health” project was a pilot program that provided healthcare, some dental care, and prescription drug discounts to uninsured adults (19-64) who live below 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.  These adults were not eligible for Medicaid and local nonprofit health clinics say the Gateway program was meant to transition those adults into an expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. 

But, the plan changed when Missouri legislators voted down a Medicaid expansion, after it was deemed optional by the feds.  Gateway was scheduled to end by December 31st, 2013 which leaves around 25,000 people in the St. Louis region without Gateway or Medicaid coverage.

Last week, we reported that another non-profit was cutting services.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Saint Louis Regional Health Commission Rob Fruend says others are not far behind.  He predicts future strains on health providers, across the region.

“One, we’re talking about the right thing to do for folks.  Two, our providers don’t have a paying population to shift costs onto and so that’s why they’re so vulnerable.  So, they run lean and when they lose money, they’ll have to cut to the bone and cut care providers and then those folks will come to the emergency rooms which will drive up costs for everybody and also delay care for true emergencies,” said Fruend.

Community health centers are now asking the federal government to extend the Gateway program, while still lobbying for the Missouri legislature to come up with a plan to expand Medicaid in the state.

“We need a bridge until, as a state, we can figure out what we do with Medicaid,” said Fruend.

One of the nonprofits that provided Gateway services at its St. Louis clinics is Grace Hill.  The agency’s CEO Alan Freeman tells News 4 that if Gateway is allowed to end, more than 10,000 Grace Hill patients would be impacted. 

“This is not just an issue for people who are uninsured and who do not work.  A fair number of these people have two jobs and just can’t afford the insurance premium,” said Freeman.

He adds that many patients who use the Gateway program for healthcare have chronic, but treatable illnesses.

Dr. David Richards, who practices Internal Medicine at Grace Hill’s Murphy-O’Fallon Health Center points to patients who lived with chronic illnesses because they couldn’t afford to visit a doctor or pay for medication, “We were seeing things that we were previously only seeing in text books.  So, end stage kidney disease from long standing high blood pressure that was not treated.”

“I had a patient last week, who I’ve been seeing for the past year, thanks to the Gateway system.  And he’s had no seizures since I’ve been seeing him.  Previously, he would end up in the emergency room once or twice a month,” added Dr. Richards.

“They’re suffering needlessly.”

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