City health clinic looks to expand services and insurance coverage

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     U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia  Burwell tours Health Center 10 Friday morning. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell tours Health Center 10 Friday morning. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Health Center #10 in Northeast Philadelphia is known as the city’s busiest clinic. And with the start of round three of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, it’s also become a main site for helping area residents sign up for insurance.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell dropped in Friday, stressing the ACA’s track record expanding health coverage.

    “That translates to basically 17.6 million fewer Americans uninsured,” she told a group of local officials. “So what we want to do is take that progress and build on it, and that’s what open enrollment is about.”

    Mayor Michael Nutter said the percentage of health center patients who are insured has gone up 10 percent since the ACA and the state’s Medicaid expansion took effect.

    Donna Sullivan, who’s waiting inside to meet with an application counselor, hopes to join that trend.

    “I have some health issues where I definitely need health insurance,” she said.

    Sullivan, who was nervous and apprehensive Friday, had tried signing up for coverage before, but it was too expensive.

    “I have my utilities, gas, electric, water, there’s nothing I could take away to afford it,” she said. She’ll be reviewing her new options once she gets help starting the application.

    Rates are going up for many plans this year.

    Burwell emphasized most people qualify for financial assistance. She also points to new tools on healthcare.gov aimed at helping people calculate the out-of-pocket costs for different plans.  

    “If you’re a person who receives financial assistance and the rates go up, your financial assistance goes up as well,” said Burwell.

    Keeping up with patients

    Regardless, Health Center #10 is packed, trying to keep up with patients both with and without insurance.

    “Last year there were over 56,000 visits, so it’s very busy,” said Dr. Thomas Storey, while walking toward the front of the center, past the pharmacy, the flu shot table, the behavioral health offices, and rows of people waiting in the dental area. 

    New patients once had to wait more than six months for an appointment here.  Storey, who oversees the city’s ambulatory services and eight health centers, said a new federal designation will bring a big boost, about $600,000, to center #10’s annual operating budget, helping to increase staff, expand services and trim waits.

    The city is also seeking a similar designation for the center in West Philadelphia.

     

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