Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

For the last year, the Macon County Health Department has been working to bridge a gap in primary care options. While the health department has been working to provide primary care services to the community, the program has been under-utilized.

The health department reviewed the program and in a year, out of the 96 patients who were seen in the primary clinic, only four were self-pay patients. The intent of the clinic was to provide primary care services to the uninsured or underinsured members of the community.

“We weren’t reaching the population we were intending to reach,” said Macon County Health Director Jim Bruckner. “We have a tremendous need to connect with people in the community who do not have a primary care physician and would be considered self-pay.”

After evaluating the program, the health department found the major roadblock to be the cost. Based on information gathered by the health department, it was evident that the clinic’s fees were too high. “Sliding our fees to 80 percent for those under 250 percent of Federal Poverty was a barrier to services for county residents who are un/under insured,” said Bruckner. “At the Board meeting the proposal was made by Health Department staff to re-evaluate the current sliding scale.”

On Tuesday night, the board of health voted to expand the sliding fee scale to a 60 percent discount rather than the current 20 percent discount, which will reduce the amount patients will have to pay for services. In six months, the board of health plans to review the program to determine if the lower fees helped meet the needs of the community.

A typical office visit at the primary care clinic would cost someone paying 100 percent of the cost out of pocket $72 at the health department. Based on income, patients who are 200-249 percent below the federal poverty level would have to pay 80 percent of the cost which would amount to $57.60. Patients who are 150-199 percent below the federal poverty level would have to pay 60 percent or $43.20. A patient who is 100-146 percent below the federal party level would pay $28.80. Lab test costs would be in addition to this fee; however, these would slide as well.

The reduction in the fees will hopefully allow the health department’s clinic to be more affordable and meet the original intent of providing desperately needed primary care services to people in Macon County.