Everyone knows a neighbor, relative or friend who suffers from unattended health issues because they do not have health insurance or adequate resources to pay for medical services.
These friends and relatives may be unemployed, employed by companies that do not offer insurance benefits, or may have recently lost insurance benefits. In Hernando County, unaddressed medical issues and the possibility of subsequent complications are significant, as approximately 17 percent of residents under 65 years of age are uninsured.
The availability of health resources is an indicator of the area's health care delivery system. Without an adequate supply of health care facilities, providers and services, maintaining good health is a daunting challenge.
Community efforts to assure access to health care for the uninsured in Hernando County are expanding every day. One response is Project Access, a community-based program.
Project Access coordinates donated medical care and services provided by physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and other health care professionals. The program serves the uninsured (those who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare) and whose annual income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Based at the Hernando County Health Department, Project Access works to increase access to health care by providing medical liability protection to those donating medical care services. In 1992, the Florida Legislature passed the Access to Health Care Act, which created the Volunteer Health Care Provider Program. This program offers licensed health care providers the opportunity to volunteer their services while having liability protection. This statute extends liability protection to providers if a lawsuit results from services rendered under this program.
In addition to helping those without access to specialty health care services, the VHCPP is a valuable resource for physicians. For years, physicians had to negotiate with their colleagues and hospitals for treatment and diagnostic testing for their indigent patients. Drawbacks of independent negotiations included the time required to recruit and coordinate donated care, the resources necessary to properly screen to ensure patient financial need, and patient liability issues.
Project Access simplifies the process. Potential clients are referred to the program by their primary care physician. Financial eligibility is determined by Project Access staffers.
Clients are referred to participating specialists, who have determined the number of patients their office can serve. Project Access assures that volunteering providers see only the number of patients agreed upon. It is this specified number that helps bring a comfort level to potential providers.
Project Access believes that if we work as a community, we will succeed.
We are on the road to being a healthy county. Currently, many qualified residents are receiving valuable health care services from a few dedicated Project Access volunteers, but there is need for more.
A limited supply of health resources, especially providers, results in the limited capacity of the health care delivery system to absorb indigent and charity care. The number of individuals receiving specialty care through Project Access will continue to grow with the support of local medical and dental societies and individual providers.
These professionals provide limited but vital specialty care to the uninsured and underserved residents of Hernando County. Project Access will be successful when every health care provider contributes what he or she can, and every patient does his or her part.
Haydee Santana is the volunteer services specialist for the Hernando County Health Department.