Looks Like They Qualify 

Health community takes advantage of federal status.

Last week Shelby County came one step closer to benefiting from health initiatives under a Bush administration plan designed to assist medical facilities serving the poor and uninsured.

The governing board of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (The Med) named a committee to proceed with the application process which, if approved, would designate the county's 10 Loop Primary Care Clinics as "look-alikes" of federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). The changeover means the clinics would receive reimbursement for TennCare and Medicare patients and participate in the federal drug pricing program for medication discounts.

"The ['look-alike' designation] is good because there are so many people who just don't have the money, and with our limited funding we can't continue to endlessly provide care to people who can't afford to pay," said loop clinic executive director Elizabeth Bradshaw. "If Bush provides the resources, it would make sense that we would take advantage of it."

Health centers applying for the look-alike distinction must meet a variety of requirements including being a nonprofit entity, serving underserved areas, and being overseen by a governing board consisting of a majority of consumers of the clinics' services.

The majority of a center's nine- to 25-member board makes decisions on funding and programs, which initially concerned members of The Med board, who questioned the consumers' knowledge of health policy.

Since applying for their "look-alike" status in 2001, the Christ Community Medical clinic, serving 20,000 patients yearly, became a full-fledged FQHC last year, making them eligible to receive additional grants and other funding. Although the Christ Community system already had a board in place similar to look-alike requirements governing its two clinics, community outreach location, and mobile unit, executive director Burt Waller still addressed the issues raised by The Med.

"If you're thinking about structuring a board, those are reasonable concerns to have," he said. "A board needs to be composed of concerned, interested, knowledgeable people. If [the distinction] strengthens [the loop clinics], that's good for the community, because if we weren't out there in those communities, there would be no one else to provide care."

Bradshaw wasn't sure about the possible savings from look-alike status but said the reimbursement funds would help underwrite the $2 million paid to them by The Med. Since their designation three years ago, Waller estimated that Christ Community medical clinics have saved about 25 percent in drug costs.

Bradshaw hoped to have the application process completed by April. Members of the governing board have not been named but are due at the time of application submission.

E-mail: jdavis@memphisflyer.com

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