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MailTribune.com
  • OREGON HEALTH PLAN

    Patient numbers double at local clinics

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  • Almost 30 percent of Jackson County residents are on the Oregon Health Plan after enrollment surged during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
    With a population of 208,000, the county has 62,000 residents on the health plan for low-income Oregonians; 24,000 of them have signed up since December, according to the Oregon Health Plan.
    This explosive growth has been felt at doctor’s offices, hospitals and at two local organizations — La Clinica and Community Health Center — that are adding new staff and clinics to keep up with demand.
    La Clinica has more than doubled its OHP medical patients, from 5,000 at the end of last year to 11,000 now. The clinic also has seen an increase in dental patients covered under the plan.
    “It is rapid growth,” said Julie Wurth, communications director for La Clinica.
    To keep up with the demand, La Clinica has been hiring new doctors and nurse practitioners and will be hiring two more in the near future.
    A new health center at 730 Biddle Road should open next spring and will require hiring five additional doctors or nurse practitioners.
    La Clinica has 14 locations, which include seven at area schools, one mobile unit and six offices.
    Nick Cleveland, a 25-year-old Phoenix resident, signed up for the OHP last year. He works part-time as a cook and went to La Clinica for a checkup that was required as part of the signup.
    “It’s a really good thing in case I get sick and need it,” he said.
    Cleveland, who lives with his grandmother, said he found out in early January that he qualified.
    Both La Clinica and Community Health Center anticipate they will see 11,000 new OHP clients by the end of the year.
    William North, chief executive officer for Community Health Center, said the number of medical patients at his eight clinics who qualify for the OHP has doubled since last year, from 3,750 to 7,500.
    North said many patients who were previously uninsured now qualify for the health plan.
    Other patients who had sporadic access to medical care or who have chronic issues that worsened are seeking treatment now, he said.
    “We encourage them to come in and get a baseline physical,” he said.
    The two clinics that his organization operates provide orientations to help patients navigate the health care system.
    “It reduces anxiety about not knowing how the system works,” he said.
    North said he expects more patients will sign up, particularly in Jackson County, which has one of the highest per capita rates of those qualifying for the plan in the state.
    “It has a very high level of poverty,” he said. 
    Karynn Fish, spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Authority, said her agency expected a surge of enrollees.
    “It’s not that it’s been more than anticipated,” she said. “It’s been sooner than we expected.”
    Fish said the state’s simplified enrollment process has made it more attractive for patients to sign up quickly.
    In a state with a population of almost 4 million residents, there are 971,000 who have signed up for the Oregon Health Plan, or almost one out of every four residents. Since Jan. 1, there have been 357,5000 new residents who have signed up.
    Fish said the federal government is picking up the costs to run the program as part of the Affordable Care Act.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

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