– by Claudia Lennhoff
Champaign County residents are experiencing a massive access to health care crisis. Despite an ample supply of health care providers, close to 40% (approximately 75,000 people) of Champaign County’s population is locked out of the health care system. Too many people cannot obtain timely and affordable primary, preventive, and specialty health care services at local clinics. CCHCC has organized the Health Care Access Task Force in response to this crisis.
The crisis began in 2003, when both major physician clinics in the Champaign County community, Christie Clinic and Carle Clinic, began enacting policies that limit or deny appointments and services to:
- patients without insurance (approximately 54,990 individuals);
- patients with Medicaid insurance (approximately 20,449 individuals); and
- patients who may be insured but have medical debt (untold number of individuals).
As a result, these patients have virtually nowhere to turn for health care services.
CCHCC’s Executive Director, Claudia Lennhoff, said, “We turned to other health advocacy and public interest law organizations all over the country. No one knew of any community in the U.S. experiencing a health care access crisis of this magnitude. The reason the crisis is so massive here in Champaign County is because there are two major physician clinics that employ over 90% of the community’s doctors. When they get together and enact similar discriminatory policies against certain classes or groups, people have no place to turn to get their health care.”
CCHCC turned to the IL Attorney General’s office for help, seeking to understand whether the Clinics’ policies and practices were legal (they are clearly unethical), and what recourse affected consumers might have. In part, as a result of CCHCC’s complaints, and complaints from others in the community (including other health care providers and social service organizations), the IL Attorney General undertook an investigation of the Clinics’ policies and practices. The investigation resulted in the IL Attorney General filing an antitrust lawsuit against Carle Clinic and Christie Clinic on June 14, 2007.
This groundbreaking lawsuit claims that “the clinics agreed to boycott new Medicaid patients to increase the effective Medicaid reimbursement rates and to accelerate reimbursement payments. Their boycott violated section 3 of the Illinois Antitrust Act and left many
of the 20,000 Medicaid-eligible children and adults in Champaign County with fewer choices and poorer quality of medical care – if they could access medical care at all.”
The lawsuit details the various ways in which the Clinics conspired to deny care to people with Medicaid insurance, including sharing phone scripts, and having their Boards of Directors pass similar policies. The lawsuit places Carle Clinic’s CEO, Dr. Bruce Wellman, as the architect of the plan to pressure the State of Illinois to increase reimbursements for Medicaid by conspiring with Christie Clinic to also deny care to Medicaid patients.
Hotline Advocate and Health Care Access Task Force member, Nina López Iñesta, said, “I think everyone should read the Attorney General’s lawsuit for themselves. It’s stunning. It’s short and easy to read, and it lays out all the ways that the Clinics worked together to deny care to people with Medicaid. It’s a public document, so everyone has a right to read it. It’s truly stunning.”
The Attorney General’s lawsuit can be found online on CCHCC’s website at: www.HealthCareconsumers.org. Just click on the link to “Access to Care” under “Our Campaigns” on the left.
“Our Hotline has been flooded with calls from desperate consumers seeking medical care, and sadly, the best advice we can offer these consumers is that they seek care in the Emergency Room, or try to find a doctor out of town, if they are able to afford transportation,” said Cindy McDonnell, Hotline Advocate.
“This is simply unacceptable. I don’t understand why the Clinics don’t feel an obligation to care for the members of their own community.”
As the Attorney General’s lawsuit progresses, CCHCC’s Health Care Access Task Force continues its community organizing efforts.
Task Force member Ron Eaker said, “The Health Care Access Task Force is dedicated to working to end the current health care crisis affecting Champaign County residents who are being denied access to care because they have Medicaid insurance, are uninsured, or have medical debt at local Clinics. The Task Force is working to create a sustainable solution that guarantees timely access to quality, affordable health care to all Champaign County residents.”
CCHCC’s Executive Director, Claudia Lennhoff explained that CCHCC and the Task Force are employing all necessary strategies to bring an end to this crisis. “We are organizing the Task Force, and the Task Force is making great strides. Every month, dozens of people attend the Task Force meeting, and we are working on setting up meetings with the State of Illinois to discuss Medicaid problems, helping consumers file human rights complaints with the cities of Urbana and Champaign, and organizing protests and other activities.”
Task Force member Jeff Scott encourages everyone to attend the upcoming protest at Carle Clinic, “We will be protesting Carle Clinic’s discriminatory and harmful practices on Tuesday, November 20 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Carle Clinic on University Avenue in Urbana. Everyone should join us. This affects the whole community, and if Carle changed their practices, things would improve immediately. The protest is an opportunity for community members to demonstrate their power and have their voices heard.”