Centre Volunteers in Medicine enters its second decade of service to the community during a time of tremendous change in the U.S. health care-delivery system. The Affordable Care Act marketplaces, which provide insurance choices through Internet-based portals, were launched on Oct. 1. Individuals purchasing insurance through these marketplaces may be eligible for tax credits and subsidies, depending on their circumstances. Eligible Centre County residents will have three months to select a health care insurer.
In Pennsylvania, the ACA marketplace is managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Two prospective benefits of the ACA are that health insurance should become available to more citizens and exclusions based on pre-existing conditions will be abolished. These are both welcome improvements, but our health care system remains expensive and confusing, particularly to people with limited financial resources facing major health problems.
The staff and volunteers at CVIM help community members confront these challenges every day. In addition to providing free health and dental services, CVIM also provides case management services to assist clients in navigating the complex and frustrating maze of rules and regulations governing access to the health care system.
A recent CVIM case involves “Jane,” a hard-working, single mom who also cares for her aging mother. Jane works part-time at an area supermarket where she qualifies for, but cannot afford, health insurance. On the advice of a friend, Jane recently visited CVIM because she was having pain and suspected she might have developed a hernia. The eligibility screeners at CVIM realized Jane needed to receive medical attention as soon as possible, and she saw a volunteer doctor the next day. The doctor sent her to the hospital for tests the same day, and she eventually was treated at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, where surgeons removed a large tumor from her abdomen.
Jane is recovering at home and anxious to get back to work to keep her bills from piling up. A CVIM case manager met with Jane and helped her enroll for medical assistance, so she may qualify for coverage. CVIM frequently sees cases such as Jane’s; uninsured people often wait too long and put off their health care because they are afraid of medical bills.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, millions of U.S. citizens will remain uninsured after the ACA marketplaces open, a group mostly comprising those who fall into the gap between medical assistance and the exchanges, but it is too early to quantify exactly how large this gap will be or who will be affected. With continued volunteer and community support, CVIM will work to fill this health care gap for residents of Centre County.
Cheryl White is the executive director for Centre Volunteers in Medicine.