Obamacare website problems take funds from local care programs
By MEGAN COOPER
Mt. Pleasant News
“If care programs across the United States have been reduced getting the website (healthcare.gov) functional, then that’s a travesty,” said Board of Health member Robert Welander during the regular Board of Health meeting Tuesday. “Is that really true? Are the programs reduced because of that?”
Henry County Health Center’s Community Health Director Travis Johnson explained that, “There was a tremendous amount of money spent on advertising that was not expected to rollout the website. They had to hire 25,000 customer service agents to answer phones when they website wasn’t working, this was not intended.”
Henry County has the opportunity possibly to speak with Senator Harkin, or his staff for sure, about the problem. According to Johnson, Senator Harkin will be traveling around the state of Iowa to talk about different things, said Johnson.
“I’m not sure if the event will be for the public or invite only, but we have the opportunity to speak with him,” explained Johnson. “The Community Transformation Grant (CTG) was a project of his and we’ve heard how upset he is about the funding for it and the changes that were made.”
According to Johnson, the CTG was a five-year promise made by the federal government and big things were to be done, but after the third year it was pulled out from underneath everyone.
“Saying it’s after the third year is still pushing it,” said Johnson. “We didn’t have funding for the first few months, so actually it’s about 2 and a half years, not three. We get started and now they pull it. I hope we get to talk to Harkin and not his staff so we can explain how it’s a bad deal.”
Johnson explained that the CTG is the one that took the direct impact when funding was shifted in the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
“A piece of that fund was the CTG and another piece was healthcare.gov. The government allocated money as they deemed necessary and advertising received additional funding and so they cut the CTG,” said Johnson. “Twenty-six counties in Iowa were impacted by this. Most counties were given $88,000 a year, while some urban counties were given $65,000, but that funding will be gone.”
Johnson said that he is still working on personnel issues that came about because of the loss of the grant and has been looking at new grant opportunities, some of which target those counties who lost the grant.
“We know that these will be lower dollar grants,” said Johnson. “We just have to look into something and see what can be done.
After the discussion of the grant, Johnson discussed the end of flu season activity and how it was rather low this year.
“We are at the end of the official flu season,” Johnson told the Board of Health during its regular meeting Tuesday. “Flu activity was very low and we had just under 700 confirmed flu cases at the state hygienic laboratory. Of those 700, 85 percent were of one particular strain, which was the H1N1 virus, which came from 2009 and the vaccine covered that and that helped to keep our numbers down.”
Johnson stated the reason for the low number was because the vaccine that was used during flu season worked and took care of the more prominent strain.
“It was a good year,” stated Johnson. “There weren’t many sick people and the outpatient visits were low; the flu vaccine was accurate and valuable. The spike in January was considerably less than other years.”
The community health director also wanted to remind the public that with the end of flu season comes the warming of temperatures, which means to watch out for Lyme Disease and the West Nile virus as well. More information will be released at a later date.
Johnson discussed with the board the Care for Yourself program again and how he still isn’t quite sure what will happen next year with it.
“The Care for Yourself program is quota based and we are given 80 slots to fill,” explained Johnson. “Before, we had a waiting list and now, we will end up with only 61 women in the program. It was supposed to be wrapped up in early May, but they extended the deadline until early June. The funding we receive from that is tied to the number of women we get.
“We have spent a larger amount of time this year on recruiting women, but we don’t get funded for the that time, just for the women in the program so we are going to see a significant decrease in funding this year. The program was designed for women who don’t have insurance and now, it’s law that everyone has to have insurance. Next year, they may reduce our numbers to 69, but that is still less funding,” said Johnson.
The Board of Health will meet again in regular session on June 24, at 12:30 p.m. The location of the meeting will be announced at a later date.