PROVIDENCE – All four members of the Rhode Island’s congressional delegation helped to launch a statewide outreach effort Monday to enroll uninsured Rhode Islanders in new health care options, as a steady stream of patients, young families and vocal infants at Providence Community Health Centers at 355 Prairie Ave. served as a backdrop.
Rhode Island’s network of nine community health centers have received $900,000 in federal grants to reach out to the state’s uninsured population and to help them either enroll in the expanded Medicaid coverage or purchase health insurance as part of the new state marketplace known as HealthSourceRI.
Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. Jim Langevin and Rep. David Cicilline were joined by Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I Department of Health, Christine Ferguson, the executive director of HealthSourceRI, and Steven Costantino, the secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services in praising the high quality network of community health centers in Rhode Island.
Reed said the outreach effort “makes good sense” and that Rhode Island’s community health centers offer one-stop care that is “effective, it’s affordable, and it’s excellent care.” Rather than having people without insurance show up at an emergency room and have everyone else pay through the nose for it, Reed continued, the outreach effort under the Affordable Care Act is a move in the right direction, where there will be an insurance system that people are responsible for participating in.
“I think that you’ll see it will evolve. It will take time, but we’re headed in the right direction,” he told Providence Business News.
Whitehouse said that Rhode Island was “a lap ahead of every other state” in implementation of health care reform.
The four members of the Congressional delegation each received a community health center champion award from the national association of health centers. When Cicilline accepted his award, he said, “We should be the ones giving all of you an award,” addressing the community health center leaders and medical staff who had gathered for the ceremony.
Fine praised the community health centers as “the boots on the ground” that are the main way Rhode Island brings primary care to the underserved.
Costantino, representing Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, praised the governor’s leadership in extending Medicaid enrollment. Costantino said he expects that 50,000 Rhode Islanders will be covered under the new expansion, with 20,000-30,000 enrolling during the first year of new eligibility.
Merrill R. Thomas, the CEO of Providence Community Health Centers, was optimistic about how the implementation of health care reform was proceeding at the community health level. “It is going to be a bumpy start, but it will succeed,” he said.
In 2012, the network of community health centers in Rhode Island served about 135,000 patients – 54,100 through Medicaid, 42,683 uninsured, 9,975 through Medicare, and 28,147 through private insurance, according to Jane Hayward, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Center Association.