While the health care legislation signed Tuesday by President Barack Obama still faces challenges, it's got a welcome mat waiting for it at community clinics that serve as a safety net for those with little or no insurance coverage.
There are more than 60 community clinics in San Diego County, all of which are dependent on whatever private donations and public grants they can scare up. They now see greater financial security -- boosted by federal funding -- to serve more people who can be a costly burden to the overall health care system.
"They're truly sick, and they're getting no care or going to the emergency room when their illness is almost to late to fix," said Roberta Feinberg, M.S., who is the CEO of San Diego Family Care, which operates three community clinics in Linda Vista and City Heights. Those clinics handle more than 100,000 patient visits per year, and many of them are under-insured, if not uninsured. Patients at the clinics are charged on a sliding scale for services that is dependent upon their income levels.
Clinic officials said the universal health insurance package will benefit a lot more patients as well as the clinics, which can expand and hire more doctors, nurses and technicians.
"So in a way, this is good for the economy," Feinberg said in an interview Tuesday. "It has an unintended ripple effect for the health care profession."
For the financially strapped, the community clinic system is indispensable.
"I mean, I rely on community clinics to get my children's health care needs met," said Hillcrest resident Natasha Knight, who brought her teenage daughter to the Linda Vista Health Care Center on Tuesday. "And the one thing I like about community clinics is that they are open on weekends, whereas most clinics are not. So for working parents or single parents like myself, it is really convenient."
"With this new [health care] plan, it's going to be easier for us to get that extra good help that we need," said Maiko Parker, who also had a teenage daughter in for a pediatric visit:
Dr. Anita Walton, a physician at the Linda Vista clinic, said the new plan will "open the floodgates" of access to medical care.
"We'll be able to educate the parents so they are healthier," Walton said. "They'll be able to go to this place, that place even within our organization to see somebody. If they need a referral to see somebody on the outside, we'll be able to do that, too."