Erica Schwartz is executive director of the new clinic in Sheridan. Photo: Eric Whitney
Colorado is home to one of the first new clinics in the country to open with funding from the Affordable Care Act, that’s the big federal health overhaul law that President Obama signed a year ago.
It sent the University of Colorado $1.5 million to open Sheridan Health Services in Englewood. Colorado Public Radio Health Reporter Eric Whitney says that because the clinic is run by nurses, it should be cheaper to operate.
WHITNEY: It was all balloons, cookies and smiles at the Sheridan Health Clinic in Englewood last Friday.
WHITNEY: The staff and volunteers were celebrating its grand opening – a brand new clinic for the poor that can provide care for up to 5,000 people. Executive Director Erica Schwartz says, without the Affordable Care Act-
SCHWARTZ: -this place would not be open. We were one of 10 nurse-managed health care centers in the nation to be funded, and we're very grateful for that.
WHITNEY: Nurse-managed health centers cost less to run, Schwartz says, because nurses' salaries simply aren't as high as doctors', even though advanced practice nurses can take care of most needs in a primary care clinic.
It’s hoped that clinics like these will help achieve two major goals of the federal health law: giving more people access to care, and at prices they can afford.
The Sheridan clinic expects to serve a lot of people on Medicaid, but also plenty with no insurance, and charge them on a sliding scale based on the patient’s income. But the clinic can’t cover all costs for the uninsured.
SCHWARTZ: OK, well you only need to pay $5 for your co-payment to be seen, so that's your visit. But you need a cholesterol panel, your thyroid needs to be checked, you need a CVC to see if you're anemic, and things like that. Well, then you're still leaving with a $300 bill.
WHITNEY: Those are lab costs. If you're on Medicaid, they're covered. Right now it's very hard to get on Medicaid in Colorado unless you're a child or a pregnant woman. That's one reason Schwartz is looking forward to the major expansion of Medicaid the Affordable Care Act calls for.
SCHWARTZ: we are hopeful that Medicaid will be expanded to adult men, which would be very nice for them in particular, but also to be able to provide more health care, from a business perspective.
WHITNEY: Schwartz says the planned Medicaid expansion would mean about 15% more of her patients would have Medicaid versus no insurance at all. That means the non-profit clinic would lose less money, and could afford to stay open longer hours, or hire more staff.
But that Medicaid expansion is under fire. The federal courts are still evaluating the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and lots of Republican lawmakers are taking shots at it as well. Here are the Republican members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation speaking on 9News in January.
TIPTON: I’m going to vote to repeal the health care, we haven’t seen any new doctors coming on.
COFFMAN: I think there’s a lot of things we can do to expand access, and to make it affordable, but without driving the deficit, without creating new taxes.
GARDNER: This bill does little to lower the cost of care, and in fact will do more to put government between them and their providers.
LAMBORN: There are so many things wrong with Obamacare, I don’t think it can be reformed. I think we need to repeal it entirely and start over.
WHITNEY: That was Congressmen Scott Tipton, Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner and Doug Lamborn.
Sheridan clinic Director Erica Schwartz says her new facility can survive even if the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act doesn’t go through. But it will be harder.
She’s already worked hard to save on start up costs. One place that can be seen is in an office chair, proudly bearing the state seal - of California.
SCHWARTZ: that's an interesting story. Because we're on a limited budget, we bought most of the furniture from CCI, Colorado Correctional Industries, and these chairs, no one wanted them, because every chair had a different state, and so I fell in love with them and now we have 7 of them in our conference room (laughs)
EW: They're all from different states?
ES: They're all from different states.
WHITNEY: Schwartz says the $1.5 million Affordable Care Act grant will cover the cost of opening the clinic and running it for three years. After that she expects it to survive on revenue from patients, and she’s already looking for more grants and other financial opportunities so she start offering dental services on site soon.