Clinic protested for denying care

By Brittany Abeijon

More than 50 members of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, CCHCC, and other community members gathered outside of Carle Clinic on Nov. 20. The organization’s Health Care Access Task Force protested the clinic’s practices that they claim discriminate against the uninsured and those with Medicaid by limiting or denying access to health care, including pregnant women.

Prior to the protest, Carle Clinic publicly announced that they had begun accepting more people on Medicaid but did not address the uninsured public, prompting the CCHCC to carry on with their protest.

Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of the organization, said she believes the announcement came as a direct result of the protest it intended to prevent.

“It’s not just a crisis of the volume of people affected,” Lennhoff said. “But in terms of the actual impact on individuals’ lives when they can’t get access to care, it turns into a life and death issue.”

According to the CCHCC Web site, 40 percent of Champaign County residents are effected by lack of health care access. This number includes people who are uninsured, on Medicaid and insured, and uninsured people who may owe some sort of medical debt.

Jennifer Hendricks Kaufmann, public relations and communications manager for Carle Clinic, said Carle is working to do everything they can to increase patient access.

“We don’t have enough access for (insured) people. Not just the Medicaid or uninsured,” Hendricks Kaufmann said. “We are trying to increase our number of providers by recruiting about 15 to 20 more physicians over the next couple years.”

The issue of access to health care is such a large problem nationwide, Carle alone is not going to be able to solve the problem. It must be solved in the state of Illinois and globally first, Hendricks Kaufmann said.

Carle participates in Illinois Health Connect, a program that aims to provide every family in Illinois with health care. The program works by providing a primary care provider to both children and adults.

“We continue to participate in Illinois Health Connect, we have lots of access, our reimbursements have been on time and they are closer to what it actually costs,” Hendricks Kaufmann said. “We are very pleased with how things are going.”

According to the state of Illinois, more than 99 percent of the 9,000 to 10,000 patients enrolled in Illinois Health Connect are assigned a provider.

However, CCHCC also expressed their dissatisfaction with Carle’s policies for expectant mothers on Medicaid.

Paulette Colemon, organizer and office manager for CCHCC, spoke at the protest on behalf of her daughter, Brittney, who was denied prenatal care while on Medicaid. Colemon’s grandson, Brennon, was denied care after he was born at the clinic. During the protest, Brittney held both her son and a sign that read “Born at Carle: 12/27/06, Banned from Carle: 12/28/06.”

“(Brennon) experienced discrimination before he was born,” Paulette Colemon said.

Hendricks Kaufmann confirmed that Carle did send letters to expectant mothers denying them prenatal care if they intended to use insurance provided through Medicaid until this summer. However, she added that the letters haven’t been sent out since this past summer and that the information from CCHCC about the letters was inaccurate.

“We are accepting new patients in obstetrics and gynecology and accepting expectant mothers enrolled in the Illinois Health Connect Program,” Hendricks Kaufmann said.

Although the decision to stop sending the letters was made this past summer, Hendricks Kaufmann said there may have been some that were sent out accidently.

In October, a member of CCHCC reported receiving the letter denying care to pregnant women using Medicaid. Lennhoff said this is why the clinic’s past policies still warrant close attention.

“But even if (the letter) was a mistake, letters were sent last year. It is unacceptable to send it out, ever,” she said.