Medical coalition’s future uncertain

ESCANABA – Despite facing an uncertain future with enforcement of the Affordable Health Care Act, one local organization strives to assist residents by providing access to several health care resources and services.

The Medical Access Coalition of Delta & Menominee Counties opened in March 2006, one of five local access coalitions in the Upper Peninsula.

“We help people who are uninsured between 19 and 64 years old that fall into certain income guidelines,” explained MAC director Mary Williams. “What we do is when you become enrolled, you get a generic drug card with us and we cover a limited number of generic medications – about 350 medications.”

The card can be used at any pharmacy for these certain medications with a $4 co-pay for a month’s supply.

“Another big part of what we do is apply to the pharmaceutical companies for free or discounted brand-name drugs. We leverage about $130,000 worth of medications a month free from these companies for our members,” she added.

In fact, since the MAC’s beginning in 2006, the value of medication they have received from pharmaceutical companies has totaled $9.35 million.

Other services MAC provides include assistance in signing members up for charity care through local hospitals or medical clinics, as well as finding resources for getting eyeglasses and eye exams for its members, and helping them apply for CPAP machines for sleep apnea.

Most recently in June 2012, the MAC implemented a diabetic program where members can get a free testing meter and testing supplies.

“Whatever resources we can tap into we do to try to help people get affordable, quality health care,” said Williams.

They also work closely with several organizations such as the St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, and Community Action Agency in serving clients and making referrals.

The MAC is now a MI Bridges Community Partner, a partnership with the Michigan Department of Human Services, where the coalition will be able to help people sign up online for things like Medicaid, food assistance, and emergency cash assistance.

Williams said as of September 30, there are 354 active members in MAC, though the number is always revolving as people enter and leave the coalition.

The group is funded through help from a number of hospital in the U.P.

“We don’t consider ourselves a government program or an insurance program,” noted Williams. “Certain hospitals in the U.P. are given funds from the government to offset indigent or uncompensated care – people who receive care but can’t pay – and they, in turn, give us some of that money to help run these programs.”

She said this ultimately benefits hospitals since the idea is to get these individuals into the routine of receiving regular preventative care.

However, with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, the MAC faces some uncertainty.

“With the healthcare reform coming, a lot of things are up in the air,” said Williams. “We actually did the federal training to become navigators for the Marketplace, but I guess only the organizations that received a grant from the government can function as navigators and we didn’t receive the grant.”

The MAC also applied to serve as certified application counselors to help the general public in signing up for the new health care plans but have not yet heard if they have been approved to do so.

“We expect that as people become enrolled in the Marketplace or the Medicaid that’s due to expand in April, that we will be losing members to that,” she said.

Since everyone will have some type of coverage through the new health care legislation, Williams noted the government is anticipated to stop providing hospitals funding to offset indigent and uncompensated care, which would mean the coalition would lose this funding from hospitals.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen…so for now we’re just going to continue serving people into the new year until they become covered by Medicaid or insurance through the Marketplace,” said Williams.

For more information on the Medical Access Coalition of Delta & Menominee Counties, call 789-1627 or visit their Escanaba office in the Hughitt Square Building at 1101 Ludington St., Suite 210.