BY KATHY GIBBONS
TRAVERSE CITY —
Traverse Health Clinic has been given a $100,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
The money will be used to help position the free clinic to become a regional federally qualified full-service health care provider under the Affordable Care Act.
Located at Logan’s Landing off S. Airport Road, the clinic has been providing free primary care services and access to specialty services for adults ages 19 to 64 in Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau counties since the mid-1970s. Last year, the clinic saw 2,898 people, said Fund Development Director Sherri Fenton.
Arlene Brennan, the clinic’s chief executive officer, said major cuts in traditional revenue loom by the end of 2013 as a result of health reform.
“Right now we are funded through what are called indigent care dollars,” Brennan said. “Local funds are used to obtain matching federal dollars for indigent care programs.
“With health reform the way it is proposed, everybody is supposed to be covered, so there won’t be theoretically people who are going without some type of coverage, and these dollars to help take care of people who typically have had no coverage will be diverted to other types of programs. What the clinic is doing is pursuing alternative revenue sources which would replace those we are losing, that are supported by government.”
In 2014, the government will support federally qualified health centers that Brennan said will be eligible for enhanced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement. There’s a higher designation the clinic subsequently hopes to achieve that would bring in additional grant money.
To qualify for the federal designation, the clinic initiated a transition to provide additional services required under the new law.
So far, Traverse Health Clinic has eliminated age restrictions and already sees children and senior citizens. Previous residency requirements have also been lifted – moves that could result in a 15 to 18 percent increase in visits over the next year alone, Brennan said.
The clinic already has been billing Medicaid, but it will see more patients with commercial insurance and is instituting a sliding fee schedule. That means expanding billing operations.
“One of the requirements is that people do contribute something toward their health care if they can possibly can,” Brennan said.
The clinic also will hire a nurse health educator. And it must ensure ongoing funding for existing dental and mental health programs.
“All of those things literally are costing us over $200,000 to implement,” Fenton said. “Blue Cross Blue Shield has come with $100,000 for that.”
Brennan said she hopes grant proposals to other organizations will be approved to help defray the expense.
But even under the expanded model, the clinic’s underlying role remains the same.
“If you have a federally qualified health center designation, you can’t turn anybody away based on their ability to pay,” Brennan said. “That being said, if you had someone (with) … the means to pay, we can require that of the person.
“But if someone is truly indigent, we could never turn them away and that’s always been our mission.”