Donnelly: “Healthcare a Human Right”

(The following article was published in Michigan City’s News Dispatch)

Since opening its doors in February, the new federally qualified HealthLinc clinic, 710 Franklin St., has put some 700 people on its active patient list, also logging some 800 patient visits.

On Monday, with a flock of dignitaries on hand, Beth Wrobel, HealthLinc chief executive officer, presided over a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the beginning of Cover the Uninsured Week.

Mayor Chuck Oberlie’s proclamation stated the problem: “839,704 Hoosiers or 13.7 percent of the state’s population do not have health insurance coverage.”

What’s more, he said, in 2006, between 3,000 and 4,000 children and between 11,000 and 13,000 adults in La Porte County had no insurance.

Lacking health insurance can mean minor illnesses turn into major ones because care is delayed. In addition, one serious ailment or accident can “wipe out a family’s bank account.”

Moreover, he said, “uninsured people live with sickness and die younger than those who are covered.”

Mary Hill, Indiana’s deputy health commissioner, quoted Martin Luther King in her presentation: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, said, “Basic health care is a basic human right.”

He said health care “changes lives. You are helping to change lives today. One-half of bankruptcies develop from medical bills.”

Donnelly has more federally qualified clinics in his district than any other Indiana congressman, Wrobel said.

Dr. Mark Jacobi, a pediatrician with Health-Partners Medical Group, holds a degree in public health as well as his medical degree. He has spent years as an advocate for children and families. He had just returned from Washington, D.C., where he regularly lobbies for health care for families and children.

“I am very interested in the delivery of health care for children,” he said after the Monday ceremony. “It is an exceptionally important matter.”

The clinic represents one way to provide health care to children, he said, but other delivery systems exist, including universal health care.

Dr. James Callaghan, St. Anthony Memorial president and chief executive officer, noted the new clinic “grew out of the Open Door,” Michigan City’s non-profit clinic for the poor.

The Open Door will continue as a fundraising organization for those who cannot pay the minimum fee at HealthLinc and those who need assistance with prescriptions.

Gene Diamond, regional CEO of the Northern Indiana region for the Sisters of St. Francis Health Services, which owns St. Anthony and other hospitals, said HealthLinc is an example of a public entity (the federal government) and a private entity (Open Door Health Care) getting together to serve the poor.

“What happened today is an example of people getting together to serve the truly needy,” he said.

St. Anthony has provided laboratory and imaging testing for Open Door patients, as well as in-patient services, when necessary.

Under the new system, the hospital still will not be reimbursed for services for the uninsured, said Marc Espar, HealthLinc site director.

Fees will be based on federal poverty guidelines, with the minimum fee coming in at $15.

Callaghan and Diamond know desperately poor families and individuals might have trouble paying even $15. Espar said local entities have been helpful in covering some of those fees.

HealthLinc is staffed full time by Dr. John Kelly, an internist, as well as by one full-time and two part-time nurse practitioners.

Espar said he is convinced the hospital will benefit in the long run because the clinic is committed to preventive health care.

“We hope to keep patients out of the hospital’s emergency department,” he said.

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