‘Overwhelmed’ Community Clinics Forced to Deny or Delay Chronic Care
A lack of funding has caused several Southern California community health clinics to deny care to chronically ill uninsured patients, place them on waiting lists or charge "significant fees" for service, the Los Angeles Times reports. Most community clinics are not-for-profit organizations that primarily treat the uninsured. While they receive some local and federal funding, Orange Country clinic directors "say their problem is fierce because there is no county hospital or county-supported clinic to help them." According to Herb Rosenzweig, Health Care Agency of Orange County deputy director, the $20 million that the county has given clinics in the past decade "doesn't begin to cover the need." Los Angeles County clinic directors say the high number of uninsured patients they treat, especially those with chronic illnesses, "overwhelm[s]" the clinics' budgets. In an effort to reduce this problem, Assembly member Tony Cardenas (D) introduced a bill (AB 1622) last week that would increase state funding to community clinics from $21 million to $60 million. In addition, Rosenzweig said that additional funding could possibly come from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement.
Among those most impacted by the clinic's financial struggles are low-income individuals with diabetes, a disease that disproportionately affects Hispanics in Los Angeles County, where 16% of Latinos over 40 have diabetes, compared to 8% of whites. In addition, Latinos constitute half of community clinic patients in the state, Carmela Castellano, CEO of the California Primary Care Association estimates. "Diabetes is a good disease to look at to understand the crisis of the health safety net," she added. Kimberly Wyard, CEO of Northeast Valley Health Corp., said that four of the company's nine clinics closed their doors to new diabetes patients last week due to funding shortages. Such closings both prevent those diagnosed with diabetes from receiving treatment and discourage those who might have it from being tested. If untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness and amputation, which necessitates emergency room visits and drives up the overall cost of health care, the Times reports (Mena, Los Angeles Times, 3/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.