Obamacare not bringing new patients to California clinics

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An expected rush of new patients to California’s low-income health clinics hasn’t materialized in the wake of Obamacare, according to the California Health Report.

California has the largest share of health exchange enrollments of any state, with 1.2 million people having selected plans on the state Obamacare marketplace by March 31. Open enrollment in California ends Tuesday. Another 1.9 million signed up for Medi-Cal, the state version of Medicaid, including the traditional program and the Obamacare expansion.

Despite millions more residents having received coverage, clinics have not seen the surge of patients they were expecting. Health officials have some innocuous explanations — for instance, some newly insured may have not needed to use their health coverage yet. But the static rate of patients suggests that whether more residents are insured or not, they’re not getting more health care.

In Santa Clara county, 43,000 residents signed up through Covered California, the state exchange, through the end of February. But St. James Health Center in Santa Clara county is still seeing the same rate of patients, close to 55,000 per year, and 35 percent of those are still uninsured entirely or under-insured.

Constance Tucker, chief medical officer at the Gardner Family Health Network, an organization that oversees low-income health clinics in the Santa Clara area, told California Health Report that Obamacare just doesn’t cover those who need it most in California.

“We were hoping to have more of an impact, but it hasn’t come to fruition for us,” Tucker said. When Tucker’s organization screened residents for Obamacare eligibility, just 1 to 2 percent of several thousand were eligible for the program. Clinic patients are often illegal immigrants without the green card or working visa required to enroll, according to Tucker.

President Obama made a push to get the Hispanic community to sign up for the health care exchanges after reports of low participation in the health care law by promising that the federal government wouldn’t deport the relatives of those signing up for health care.

But while the number of Hispanic Californians insured by the exchange has risen, it’s still relatively low. After a boost in the last month of enrollment, just 26 percent of California’s eligible Latino population enrolled. Clinics that serve those that are the most in need still aren’t providing for any more patients.

California’s extreme experience is reflected to a lesser degree across the country. While the Obamacare exchanges have convinced 7.5 million individuals to select plans, early reports indicate that just a third of those people who signed up were previously uninsured. Even worse, those that were uninsured are even less likely to purchase their health care plans in the end.

While California’s low-income providers and patients have been for the most part unaffected by the health care law, many Americans who were able to afford health coverage before the health care law can now receive subsidies to cut their costs.

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Sarah Hurtubise