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Forest Park resident Dr. Andre Hines is looking forward to the full implementation of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which is informally referred to as "Obamacare."
The CEO of Circle Family HealthCare Network (CFHCN) tells the following story to illustrate why she favors the healthcare reforms signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. Last year regulators from the State of Illinois were meticulously reviewing every aspect of CFHCN's Humboldt Park site, while she was franticly trying to find a way to meet her payroll, because the state is so far behind on its payments her agency.
"I was angry for the whole three days of the review," she said. "The state has never skipped a beat in reviewing us, but I can't get the money from them to pay my staff. I've never heard of the state missing a payroll, but I have the burden of figuring out where the money is going to come from to meet the payroll of a small community health center."
Because the state has been so slow in reimbursing providers, CFHCN missed payroll for all employees by a few days twice in 2011 and at present is one month behind in paying the doctors and senior management, including herself.
At the end of her financial rope, Hines decided to go directly to her representatives in Springfield. She loaded five CFHCN clients and six staff in a van and drove to the state capital for a meeting with state senator Don Harmon and state representatives Camille Lily and La Shawn Ford.
"I expected it to go like it usually does," she recalled. "They would listen and then say 'thank you for coming and we'll get back to you.'"
Instead, Circle Family's CEO was blown away. La Shawn Ford had reserved a big board room and invited two representatives from the governor's office to sit in. When the people from the state were finished with all of their questions, they asked if any of the visitors wanted to say anything, to which one mental health client responded, "Yes, I have a question for you. How long would any of you work if you didn't get your paycheck?"
Rep. Ford followed up with a phone call the next to say that the state comptroller's office was putting CFHCN on the expedited payment list, which means that Circle Family will get a check every month.
What will change in 2014 when Obamacare is fully implemented, Hines predicted, is that more people will be covered which means that Circle will be paid. "We serve so many people whom we don't get paid for right now," she explained, "and that will be seriously minimized with health care reform."
"We've already felt benefits," she added. "If a family has a child under the age of 26, now the parents' insurance can still cover them. It's a wonderful thing."
"There are a lot of people who don't seek health care because they're not planners, and they don't know the benefits of prevention," she acknowledged but then added, "Because they feel like they don't have the money, they don't want to come in and not be able to pay. So they hold off hoping they'll get better and oftentimes end up in the Emergency Room [at a higher cost to the state]."
"I really do believe," she concluded as she anticipated insurance coverage for the more than 30 million uninsured Americans, "that we'd see a lot less people showing up in the ER and that they'd come for services, if they could receive quality services which are convenient and affordable."
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Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.