With the Affordable Health Care Act set to go into effect in 2014, a group of community and medical leaders gathered Wednesday at the Jefferson Reaves Sr. Health Clinic in Overtown to talk about the act’s potential impacts on community clinics.
A panel of public healthcare experts, meeting as part of a World Diabetes Day forum , said centers like Jefferson Reaves are likely to face an influx of newly insured patients and a shortage of primary care doctors as the federal legislation kicks in.
“The Affordable Health Care Act is going to change the world of community health centers enormously,” said Dr. Robert Schwartz, professor and chairman of the family medicine and community health department at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “We are going to have to think smarter and more creatively.’’
Schwartz, who leads the family practice residents working at the Overtown clinic, said medical leaders will begin discussing how best to prepare for the legislation intended to make healthcare accessible and affordable for much of the uninsured population. Up to this point, Florida has not taken any steps to implement the provisions but Gov. Rick Scott — who had staunchly opposed the act — said this week he is now open to conversations about healthcare reform.
Schwartz said clinics will likely need to boost staffing levels with more doctors, nurses and technical and support staff as well as consider expanding the hours.
“Community health centers are on the front lines of care in South Florida and the U.S., and they are in dire need of reinforcements,’’ Schwartz said.
The event also marked United Health Foundation’s renewal of $1 million in funding to the center. Operated by Jackson Health System, the outpatient primary care clinic serves more than 6,000 people annually using a holistic team approach ranging from preventive care to treatment for chronic conditions.
The funds come at a crucial time for community clinics in the walkup to the Affordable Care Act’s implementation: The National Association of Community Health Centers estimates that the more than 20 million people served by such centers each year could nearly double by 2015 as a result of the legislation.
By Friday, states must notify federal officials whether they plan to set up health insurance exchanges, a marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for affordable coverage and possibly receive government subsidies.
“As millions enter the health system starting in 2014, community health centers will become an increasingly vital resource nationwide,’’ Kate Rubin, president of United Health Foundation, said in statement. “We are working to help community clinics deliver high-quality care to the people who need it most and in ways that work.’’