Free clinic offers care for insured

The Shenandoah Community Health Clinic in Woodstock has announced changes to how it serves the community.

The free clinic at 124 Valley Vista Drive, Woodstock, which offers medical and dental care for area residents living below poverty level, has started accepting patients who have insurance. It also offers in-person assistance to those who want to sign up for government-subsidized health coverage before the Feb. 15 free enrollment deadline.

These changes, according to Executive Director Pam Murphy, came in answer to concerns from community members whose medical insurance doesn’t cover their needs.

Patients who qualified as low-income were choosing the clinic over insurance, she said, because after paying for insurance, they couldn’t afford other necessities. Others she talked with were foregoing health care altogether.

“The odd thing now is that some of the preventative services are covered, so perhaps you can get a mammogram, but you can’t get your bronchitis treated,” Murphy said.

“You might find an illness, but you might not be able to treat the illness that you found,” she added.

It can be even worse for patients with chronic illnesses, who pay up to 26 percent of their income — the amount of a mortgage payment — on health care costs.

“I don’t have value in it,” Murphy remembered them telling her. “It’s not helping me.”

A 51-year-old policy holder earning $23,095 a year would pay a monthly premium of $119 on subsidized insurance, annually $1,428 or 16.1 percent of the patient’s income, according to a tiered cost sharing plan provided by the Charlottesville Free Clinic and which the Woodstock clinic has made available to its patients.

On the mid-level plan, the deductible is $2,350, with a maximum out-of-pocket payment of $4,500, or 25.7 percent of income.

However, the plan’s costs lower with income. The same patient earning $115 less a year, would have a $750 deductible instead of $2,350, and a $1,500 maximum out-of-pocket cost instead of $4,500.

The low end of the plan requires 7.3 percent of income for insurance and the high end 21.4 percent.

Most of the clinic’s patients cannot afford this plan, Murphy explained.

The free clinic accepts patients in Shenandoah County earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $47,000 a year for a family of four or $23,000 per individual, she said.

“But we’re no longer looking at whether they have insurance or don’t have insurance,” Murphy said.

Other clinic additions will help patients hoping to change their insurance situation or seeking behavioral health care.

Through a grant from the Virginia Community Healthcare Association, working through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the clinic will be able to pay an in-person assistor a maximum of $63,000 to assist residents of Shenandoah, Warren and Page counties in signing up for insurance through the website http://www.healthcare.gov by the Feb. 15 open enrollment deadline.

The clinic is also looking for a community psychiatrist to collaborate with them on offering more psychiatric care. A $70,000 grant from the Virginia Health Care Foundation will allow the clinic to extend the hours of its nurse practitioner, dual trained in psychiatric care to three days a week, but only with a collaborating area psychiatrist.

Currently a psychiatric nurse practitioner, facilitated through the Northwestern Community Services Board, works at the clinic on Wednesdays.

An estimated 18 percent of the clinic’s clientele suffers from depression, anxiety or both, Murphy said, but patients are underserved in Shenandoah County, which she said needs more mental health providers.

“We’re happy we have what we do because this community has a lot of need for it,” she said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com