- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

D.C. government officials yesterday endorsed a local nonprofit organization’s $90 million plan to add health care clinics in low-income neighborhoods and reduce overcrowding at hospital emergency rooms.

The Medical Homes DC plan, which the D.C. Primary Care Association (DCPCA) presented yesterday, will require about $21 million in city government funds over the next three years, project officials said.

City officials have not yet officially committed the money, but several D.C. Council members and City Administrator Robert Bobb said they favor funding the project.

“The lack of primary health care must be addressed,” Mr. Bobb said at a DCPCA event yesterday afternoon at the True Reformer building at 12th and U streets Northwest. “Medical Homes DC is exactly the kind of grass-roots effort the city needs,” he said.

Mr. Bobb said he plans to meet with Mayor Anthony A. Williams today to discuss whether the city will be able to support the project with $7 million in each of the next three years.

“That’s a huge commitment and it’s a commitment that the mayor takes very seriously,” Mr. Bobb said. “This is a project whose time has come in the District of Columbia.”

The association has been lobbying city officials for several months to fund the Medical Homes DC Plan, saying additional health care clinics in low-income areas eventually will reduce overall health care costs in the District.

D.C. Department of Health officials have complained in the past year that emergency room visits by residents in the city’s poorest neighborhoods strain the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, the city’s nearly $80 million plan to privatize health care for low-income people.

The city-funded program, which covers those not eligible for Medicaid, began three years ago after D.C. General Hospital was closed. The alliance exceeded its $83 million budget in 2002 by $13.3 million, according to the department.

“Improving and expanding the number of clinics will reduce the use of emergency rooms for primary care, and reduce hospitalizations when illnesses become life threatening,” said Sharon Baskerville, executive director for the association.

Health Department Director James Buford agreed, calling the 10-year plan “one of the most important and one of the most ambitious health care projects in the District of Columbia.”

“We are excited about this initiative,” he said. “We support it.”

Organizers said the plan aims to improve access to health care for many D.C. residents who have health insurance but no place to get services. “The District has done a good job of [providing] health care coverage in the sense that most people are either covered by Medicaid, the alliance or private health plans,” said Alice Rivlin, director of the Brookings Institution’s Greater Washington Research Center and a project organizer.

“But what we don’t have is a good place for people to go other than hospital emergency rooms,” she said.

Mrs. Rivlin said the initiative also would help create jobs.

“Clinics can be neighborhood anchors,” she said. “They don’t just deliver health care. They deliver jobs and training to people in the neighborhood.”

Association officials said they have $1.1 million in funding through the Health Department, federal government and grants from private foundations.

The project is being modeled on a program in New York. The New York City Primary Care Development Corp. received $17 million in city funding in 1994 to help pay for 32 primary care centers in the city, Ivy Fairchild, spokeswoman for organization, said in a phone interview yesterday.

“With the growing number of uninsured, you could build a primary care center every few blocks apart and you still wouldn’t have enough,” Miss Fairchild said. “Primary care is the most cost-effective and patient-centered form of care.”

D.C. Council members Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, and Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, also spoke in favor of the initiative yesterday.

Mr. Evans said the city should be able to afford $21 million to fund Medical Homes DC because an upcoming city audit is expected to show the D.C. government with a $32 million surplus.

Mrs. Allen stopped short of promising the funds, but said she would lobby colleagues for their commitment.

“It’s always better to spend money to prevent illnesses,” she said.

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