By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico
The recession is causing more people in the area to turn to taxpayer-supported health centers that provide care on a sliding fee scale.
An influx of new patients has already hit the only federally qualified clinic in Clovis and Portales. La Casa Family Health Center Chief Executive Officer Seferino Montano said both clinics have seen an increase of more than 22 percent in new patients this year.
“We will continue to provide access (to health care) to anyone who walks in the door,” Montano said. “If the reform bill passes, our role will be the same. We’ll continue to provide that access.”
To handle increases, Montano said the Portales clinic is looking to add one or two physicians to the staff.
The Clovis office is undergoing renovations to provide more exam room, office and waiting space. When the renovations are over, the Clovis clinic will be able to add physicians.
Montano said about 40 percent of the clinic’s patients do not have health insurance.
“If our patient base were provided insurance coverage tomorrow, all it means to us is that we would be getting paid in those cases where we are not right now,” he said.
Montano said he believes the current health care bill is appropriate due to the 45 million Americans without health insurance.
“I hope along the way, a public option is added to the bill. I think a public option would begin to control costs,” Montano said. “It will force, if you will, insurance companies to look at their pricing and see how they can do better. I don’t think anywhere out there, especially in the business world, hasn’t seen double-digit increases in premiums over the last couple of years.”
David Briseno, director of outreach for La Casa, said the clinics have also seen more people applying for various low-cost insurance programs such as the Curry County indigent fund.
“Many people are requesting that type of assistance and needing other resources to get the help they need,” he said.
Gayla Jaquess, nurse manager for the New Mexico Department of Health office in Curry County, said the office focuses on preventative services.
“Because of where the economy is in Curry County, we have seen an increase,” she said.
Jaquess said the increase began in the middle of last year, but she was not able to provide a percentage of new patients.
The health offices provide sexually transmitted disease testing, breast and cervical screening and family planning services on a sliding scale fee. A sliding scale fee is not in effect for immunization.