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Health clinics brace for ‘pent-up demand’

Marketplace Contributor Jul 16, 2012

Health clinics brace for ‘pent-up demand’

Marketplace Contributor Jul 16, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: Republicans in the House of Representatives voted again last week to repeal President Obama’s health care law. But since President Obama has no intention of signing the repeal, health care providers still have to operate under the assumption that the Affordable Care Act will go into full effect. In Northern Arizona, that’s playing out at community health centers, which are anticipating a jump in demand.

Laurel Morales reports from station KJZZ in Flagstaff.

Laurel Morales: Several people line up for their appointments at the North Country Community Health Center. It’s part of a network of nonprofit clinics that provide primary care to patients with little or no insurance.

Jen Cody brought her three sons in for their annual check-ups. Cody doesn’t like President Obama’s health care plan.

Jen Cody: That’s way, way, way too much government for me. And I don’t want to be forced to have insurance. I like having it and I choose to have it. If I was forced to have it there may be times I couldn’t afford it. And how do I do that?

Jeff Barnaby: That’s absurd.

Jeff Barnaby is a new dad bringing his baby son in for an exam.

Barnaby: That just baffles my mind that people with no insurance, who can’t afford insurance, are opposed to the idea of a new plan coming in that would actually make it accessible to them. I truly don’t understand that.

About 55 percent of the patients at North Country Health Center are on Medicare or Medicaid. Another 20 percent have no insurance at all. North Country offers primary care — things like prenatal exams and diabetes management. But the clinic doesn’t have specialists.

Eric Henley is chief medical officer. He has seen people physically suffering because they don’t have the insurance and can’t afford that specialized care.

Eric Henley: And it’s tremendously frustrating to us and tremendously difficult for them.

But he says because the new Supreme Court ruling requires people to get insurance they will have access to specialized care. As more people get insured, Henley anticipates a lot more patients.

Henley: When people go from the uninsured state to the insured state they ask for more care because they have pent-up demand understandably.

He says that would be fine if Arizona was willing to expand its Medicaid program. Under the new law, the federal government would give matching dollars to states to expand health care for the poor. But Arizona is one of several states that has turned down those matching funds in the past. North Country Community Health Center relies on Medicaid to help pay the bills. So Henley’s concerned about having the resources — both staff and operations — to handle this “pent-up demand.”

In Flagstaff, Ariz., I’m Laurel Morales for Marketplace.

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