Program for Uninsured in Cuyahoga County Finally Launches

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The region’s poor and sick may get a small dose of good news in the coming week. After years of planning and delays, a project designed to speed up access to health care for the uninsured in Cuyahoga County is finally set to launch.

Beginning March 19, Cuyahoga Health Access Partnership — CHAP for short — will begin enrolling its first patients, according to Sarah Hackenbracht, the group’s new executive director.

In the planning stages since 2007, CHAP is a consortium of the county’s major health-care providers, including Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Kaiser, and MetroHealth, in addition to a number of organizations that serve low-income and uninsured patients.

But in the past year, the group has jettisoned its top official, weathered delays in attaining non-profit status, and endured the kind of debate one would expect when the region’s health-care titans come to play at the same table.

“It’s not the kind of thing where you just agree to be friends,” says Sandra Byrd Chappelle, senior program officer for St. Luke’s Foundation and a CHAP board member. “There was a lot of legal work to go through. It all takes time.”

Under CHAP, patients will be enrolled in an electronic system that records demographic and financial information. Once accepted, patients won’t have to keep repeating paperwork to verify their insurance and income information, as they do now. Eligible patients must be between 19 and 64 years of age, uninsured, ineligible for Medicare or Medicaid, and at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (the equivalent of $46,100 for a family of four).

Following a small pilot program launched last year, CHAP hopes to serve 2,000 patients this year, with plans for 5,000 in 2013 and 10,000 by 2014.

According to Hackenbracht, each hospital will adhere to its own guidelines for administering charity care. Contrary to earlier media reports, CHAP members will not share electronic medical record software, meaning that patient records will still have to be faxed between providers. So while CHAP may prove to be a breakthrough for patients, it could be a new headache for doctors and their staffs.

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