Free medical screenings fill insurance gap

(Jon Laflamme/DD)
Phoenicians with no insurance can receive medical care once per month at the Interfaith Cooperative Ministries Food and Clothing Bank, courtesy of the Cathedral Health Services on the second floor.
(Jon Laflamme/DD)

Phoenix residents living in the downtown area received free medical screening services Saturday.

Cathedral Health Services provides free medical screenings for the public once per month. The clinic is located on the second floor of Interfaith Cooperative Ministries Food and Clothing Bank, just south of downtown at 501 S. 9th Ave.

The mobile health services facility was started by members of Trinity Presbyterian Cathedral as a non-profit organization that provides low-cost screenings throughout the Southwest region. On the first Saturday of each month, the organization coordinates volunteer health workers to provide free medical screenings at ICM. Between 50 to 80 people take advantage of the services each month, volunteer coordinator Kristin Gourley said.

The free clinic is one of several no or low-cost clinics near downtown Phoenix that cater to residents who don’t have health insurance. These clinics fill a gap in the health care system, since not all the working poor are covered by Medicaid, a federally and state funded program that provides healthcare to the poor.

Forty percent of low-income Arizona residents between the ages of 19 and 64 did not have health insurance in 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit focusing on medical issues facing the United States. The 460,000 uninsured adults in this category earn no more than 139 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $15,971 for a single adult and $32,734 for a family of four.

This same group is more than four times less likely to receive insurance benefits from employers than adults in a higher income group, according the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“You really are stuck if you don’t qualify for Medicaid,” said Dr. Doris Marie Provine, a retired Arizona State University professor with a background in law, criminal justice and political science.

Provine said it is unrealistic to think that low-income earners would be able to afford the high premiums associated with private health insurance.

Michelle Hoxie of downtown Phoenix doesn’t have health insurance.

Hoxie, a 28-year-old college graduate, has been looking for additional work to pay for nearly $50,000 in medical debt from a 2010 surgery. Hoxie works in the retail store of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and teaches private music lessons on the side.

“That was terrifying, knowing that I was going into surgery, and I was going to come out completely in debt,” she said. Hoxie has a chronic health condition, which requires ongoing medical attention.

Hoxie said she would have qualified for public health care, based on her income, but she was disqualified due to a July 2011 Medicaid enrollment freeze. The freeze has blocked low-income adults without children from being eligible for Medicaid coverage in Arizona, known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Hoxie said it didn’t seem fair to her that the decision to not have children disqualifies her for Medicaid. She tried to get private insurance, but insurers denied her because of her chronic health condition.

“I can’t just have a scheduled surgery with a specialist,” Hoxie said. “I have to wait until the point where my organs shut down.”

In an emergency situation, a hospital would be required by law to treat Hoxie, regardless of her ability to pay.

A new proposal by Gov. Jan Brewer, which is currently being considered by the Arizona legislature, could ease the burden on the uninsured poor, especially on childless adults. The proposal would extend Medicaid coverage up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line or $15,282 for single adults.

If the extension is approved by the legislature, Hoxie or some of the patients seeking care at the Neighborhood Christian Clinic could be eligible for medical coverage under Medicaid.

AHCCCS spokesperson Jennifer Carusetta said one of the main reasons the governor proposed the increase is that it would remedy the problem of growing uncompensated care costs borne by hospitals, which are required by law to provide care to patients in emergency rooms, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Uncompensated costs of hospitals have doubled over the past year, according to an AHCCCS report.

But if the Arizona legislature rejects the governor’s proposal, there will still be some relief for poor and low-income Arizona residents seeking health insurance.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010 and set to begin in January 2014, will require businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance benefits to their employees or face fines.

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