Fewer Using Health Departments

WHEELING – As more people become eligible for government-related health insurance, fewer people appear to be using public health department medical services.

“As the Affordable Care Act progresses, more people will be on some kind of insurance program. The number of people seeking services such as family planning and breast and cervical cancer screening have dropped slightly at the health department, but we are also seeing an increase in immunizations,” said Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble. “We will continue to offer our health services as they are currently structured, since there are individuals who are not enrolled in the ACA.

Many health departments, including ours, will at some point need to decide (whether) to continue some of their health services or specialize in specific services,” he continued.

Gamble said it is not the goal of health departments to compete with local doctors or facilities, but to be a safety net or specialty service for them.

“Even if our health services … decline, we still have to meet the state obligations of disease investigation, control and prevention, so we will still be busy,” he said. “We really don’t make money on our health services, so if we see a slight decline, opt to go out of providing FP and BCCSP or move to another model, our bottom line will pretty much stay the same.”

Gamble said in fiscal year 2013, there were 111 breast and cervical cancer screening patients and 810 family planning patients. To date in fiscal 2014, there have been 71 and 454, respectively.

Ronda Francis, Marshall County Health Department administrator, said the Affordable Care Act also has had an impact on the number of people using that county’s health department.

“The breast and cervical screening program has seen the largest loss of clients, mainly due to the fact that having insurance disqualifies women from participating in the program,” she said. “Women who were uninsured prior to the ACA now have the availability of insurance coverage. Our family planning program numbers are down as well; however, we have not seen much of a decrease in immunization or dental visits.”