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HealthNet forced to make cutbacks

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, August 23, 2012

— Cutbacks at HealthNet of Rock County will mean more challenges for those already struggling financially.

Since July 1, HealthNet spending is nearly $9,500 over budget, according to HealthNet records.

"Our demand is up, so our expenses have increased. We had to cut expenses to match our income," Executive Director Jean Randles said.

"We're not eliminating patient services and feel we have kept all services that are critical to the patients' health," Randles said.

The board of directors for the free clinic, which serves county residents without health insurance, Monday approved the following cutbacks based on recommendations by Randles and Clinical Operations Director Ryan Messinger:

n Lab work. HealthNet will no longer pay for X-ray services.

"We will be communicating with partnering hospitals to have X-rays done at their locations," Randles said.

-- Medications. HealthNet will look at the patient assistance program, which provides free or discounted medicines to low- to moderate-income Americans who don't already have health insurance, to provide this service. HealthNet will continue to buy a small number of medications not available through this program.

"This means any of the current medications HealthNet offers will be changed to another very similar medication offered through the patient assistance program, and we are no longer going to offer medications that are available over the counter," Randles said.

-- Enrollment. As of Aug. 8, new and re-enrollments were limited to 20 patients a week on a first-come, first-served basis.

The limit was dropped to 15 on Aug. 15, to 10 on Aug. 22 and will be reduced Aug. 29 to five new and re-enrollments a week.

"We are doing this for a period of time and hope it will not continue throughout this fiscal year," Randles said.

HealthNet's fiscal year ends in June 2013.

"We have to get to a manageable point while we're struggling with our finances," Randles said.

HealthNet is investigating the possibility of introducing patient fees; maybe an annual service fee or an administrative fee per medication or per clinic, Randles said.

"If we move forward, we would be doing that in January. We first need to look at legislation since all of our volunteers are covered under a state program to receive liability coverage, and we don't want to jeopardize that," she said.

HealthNet leaders want to build relationships with local hospitals and clinics to reduce emergency room visits for HealthNet patients.

"There are services they could provide to HealthNet to help them and us, so we're exploring options," Randles said.

No reductions are planned in HealthNet's staff of two full-time employees and nine part-time employees, who work five to 36 hours a week.

HealthNet was able to accept between 30 and 40 new patients a week until it reached maximum capacity in 2010 and had to limit new enrollments to five patients a week.

Until this month, new enrollments were increased again—starting in January 2011 after HealthNet completed a $218,500 renovation and expansion project.

During the past four years, HealthNet has grown by increasing its medical clinic space by 40 percent and the number of clinics and services it provides to address demand.

HealthNet expenses ran over budget two of the past four years, and expenses again topped income during the first month of its new fiscal year.

During the 2008-09 and 2011-12 fiscal years, HealthNet spent $21,380 and $26,350 over revenue.

Randles believes need for the free clinic will only grow, "whether it's increasing the number of patients it receives of the services they require," she said.

Although these cutbacks mean more out-of-pocket expenses for those already struggling financially, Randles said HealthNet had no choice to protect its longevity.

"We can't afford to provide services we don't have dollars for."


Last updated: 5:06 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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