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Steady increase in chronic disease patients seeking help from CommUnityCare

Monday, September 30, 2019 by Katherine Corley

Nearly 26 percent of CommUnityCare Health Centers’ patients in 2018 sought care for chronic diseases such as HIV, diabetes and heart disease – up from 18 percent in 2016 – said CommUnityCare CEO Jaeson Fournier at Wednesday’s Central Health Board of Managers meeting.

CommUnityCare, which provides medical, dental and behavioral health services to low-income and homeless residents of Travis County, is partially funded by Central Health, the health care district in Travis County that connects indigent residents to health services.

CommUnityCare served 98,594 patients in 2018, approximately 6,000 more than in 2016. However, the percentage of CommUnityCare patients with chronic disease is outpacing the growth of CommUnityCare’s overall patient population, Fournier said.

Rates of diabetes among CommUnityCare patients have jumped from 26 percent in 2016 to 36 percent in 2018, while the prevalence of HIV increased from 16 percent in 2016 to 27 percent in 2018.

One bright spot is the sharp decline in CommUnityCare patients with hepatitis C, from a high of 13 percent in 2016 to below zero in 2018.

Six hundred of CommUnityCare’s patients with the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, have been treated and cured in the past three years, Fournier said. CommUnityCare provides HCV care and treatment at its North Central and Southeast Health and Wellness Centers and offers a pharmacy assistance program that helps low-income patients receive expensive HCV medications for free, according to the CommUnityCare website.

CommUnityCare also provides preventive health services and screenings, including colorectal and cervical cancer screening, weight assessment and nutritional and physical activity counseling for children, tobacco use screening and cessation programs, and dental sealants for children ages 6-9. The percentage of patients using most preventive health services increased in 2018.

CommUnityCare serves a diverse patient population. In 2018, 64 percent of its patients identified as Latino, while nearly 13 percent of patients were African American. Fifty-five percent of patients earned at or below the federal poverty level, which in 2018 was $12,140 a year for one person and $25,100 for a family of four. Nearly all patients – 94 percent – earned 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level.

Of the 22,400 pediatric patients and 77,500 adult patients served by CommUnityCare, approximately 57 percent are uninsured and another 23 percent are on Medicaid.

Texas is one of 14 states in the nation that has not accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid, which would enable individuals making 138 percent or less of the federal poverty level to be eligible for Medicaid. Currently, Texas offers Medicaid only to low-income people who are pregnant and/or have a dependent child, have a disability or care for a family member with a disability, or are age 65 or older.

According to recently released 2018 census data, Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the nation: 17.7 percent of Texans do not have health insurance.

CommUnityCare provides services at 33 sites around Travis County, including 24 clinics. New clinics anticipated for the 2019-20 budget year include a school-based health center at Akins High School and clinics in Hornsby Bend and Chalmers.

CommUnityCare projects that it will serve 101,000 patients in 2019.

Photo via Dell Medical School.

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