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Health department hikes fees

Tom Jackson • Feb 16, 2014 at 9:01 AM

The Erie County Health Department has hiked its fees for its poorest clients, the ones who don’t have Medicaid or any form of private insurance.

The department’s nominal fees, its minimum fees for services, have been raised from $15 to $25 for its primary medical clinic, and from $25 to $35 for people getting service at the dental clinic.

Shari Greene, director of primary care and clinic services for the Erie County Health Department, said the federal government’s Health Resources Services Administration recently carried out a site visit and recommended Erie County raise its fees.

“We were on the low side,” Greene said.

The federal government wants federally-funded clinics such as the health department’s to charge a reasonable fee as part of the effort to get everyone to sign up for health insurance, said Pete Schade, Erie County’s health commissioner. In addition to the health exchanges offered by “Obama Care,” Ohio is one of the states that has expanded Medicaid access.

“They’re not going to do it if they can walk into places like this and pay $15” Schade said.

Greene said the number of patients who pay only the nominal fees is the 20 percent to 25 percent range, but that’s expected to shrink as more patients obtain health insurance.

The Ohio Association of Community Health Centers represents local health clinics that serve low-income people. Sandusky has two such clinics — the health department’s, and Family Health Services of Erie County, which is based at Firelands Regional Medical Center but has a board separate from the hospital’s. Fremont also has a clinic, Community Health Services.

Randy Runyon, president of the association, said each community has to decide for itself what fee to charge.

“You want it high enough so it doesn’t encourage overuse of the health center. If it’s free, people will just come every day” he said.

But the fee has to be low enough it doesn’t cause a significant barrier to care, he said.

The $25 fee at the Erie County Health Department is a pretty common figure, Runyon said.

Family Health Services of Erie County charges a nominal fee of $12, said Wilson Forney, CEO of the agency.

The agency has not had its site visit from HRSA, he said. It’s likely the agency will bring up the fee when it carries out its visit, he said.

The nominal fees at Community Health Services in Fremont are $25 for the medical clinic and $30 for the dental clinic, said Joe Liszak, the CEO for the clinic. Four years ago, those fees were the national average fees, he said.

Liszak said his clinic has not raised its fees for several years. When the Great Recession hit in 2008 and it became obvious many people were headed for hard times, the decision was made to keep the fees the same, he said.

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