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Community Health Center Leaders Say Medicaid Expansion Helps Reduce Disparities

Community health center leaders say Medicaid expansion is helping address racial and health disparities in Kentucky. (Shawnee Christian Healthcare)
Community health center leaders say Medicaid expansion is helping address racial and health disparities in Kentucky. (Shawnee Christian Healthcare)
September 6, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A new report from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that race and ethnicity make a difference in how healthy you are.

Phyliss Platt is the CEO at the Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center, a community health center in the west end of Louisville in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. She said she sees those differences every day as patients endure racial, economic and health disparities.

"What we see significantly are high rates of diabetes, high rates of heart disease and hypertension, mental-health issues that go untreated because of lack of access to resources in the neighborhood,” Platt said.

The Foundation's report also found that black and Hispanic Kentuckians are less likely to have health insurance than white Kentuckians, and that white Kentuckians are more likely to have a personal doctor and less likely to forgo medical care because of cost.

Platt said Medicaid expansion, which has allowed an additional 440,000 Kentuckians to gain health coverage, has helped chip away at the disparities.

"We know we've increased access to primary care,” Platt said. "We know we've had higher numbers of folks accessing preventive care and starting to move the needle a little bit on those health outcomes as a result."

Of the more than 3,000 patients served by the Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center 70 percent are on Medicaid - half of them through expansion.

Kentucky is seeking waivers from the federal government, which Gov. Matt Bevin said will give those enrolled in Medicaid "ownership" in the program and make it more sustainable for the state.

Shawnee's Anne Peak worries that the potential changes could create barriers and reverse the gains made.

"We're concerned that the folks who have to jump through hoops to maintain their coverage are going to get lost in the system,” Peak said.

The proposed waiver could include work requirements, premiums and lockout periods, which critics said could disproportionately affect minorities and other vulnerable Kentuckians.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY