By Kelly Lapczynski, staff writer
Partners for Healing – a nonprofit medical clinic that provides free primary health care to the working uninsured in Coffee, Franklin and Moore counties – has raised its income eligibility limit. According to board president Lane Yoder, the clinic’s executive committee recently approved increasing the income eligibility limit from 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline to 250 percent. “We’re thrilled,” said Yoder. “Partners was originally established to make healthcare accessible and we feel as though increasing that income limit casts a wider net into the communities we serve.” For example, the federal poverty guideline for a two-person household is $15,930. Under the expanded eligibility limit, members of that household could earn up to $39,825 and still qualify for Partners for Healing services if they are uninsured and at least one of them is working 20 or more hours a week. The federal poverty guideline for a family of four is $24,250. Under the new Partners limit, that family could earn up to $60,625 and qualify. “It is our hope that by increasing this income limit, we’ll be able to attract more individuals who are working and either are not offered health insurance from their employer or cannot afford to purchase health insurance.” Unlike some free clinics, Partners for Healing will not turn away any patient simply because insurance is available to the individual. What matters, said Executive Director Belle Ruyten, is the patient’s own determination that insurance coverage in unaffordable. “Half of our patients are bringing in less than $18,000 a year,” said Ruyten. “Our premise is that each family knows their own financial situation best. They know what they can and cannot afford.” Without an insurance policy helping to cover the cost of routine office visits, many people could not afford to visit a doctor at all; but through Partners for Healing, patients can not only see a doctor for a seasonal sniffle, they can also find consistent care for ongoing health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Through free health screenings and in-house lab tests, Partners also helps patients treat health issues that might have otherwise gone undetected. “The important part is the lives we’ve saved,” said past president Jim Henry. There are, of course, some medical conditions that require care beyond the scope of a free clinic. If a patient’s screening uncovers a condition that the office is unable to treat or which requires further diagnostics, the patient will be referred elsewhere. “If (the diagnosis) needs a specialist, we refer them to a network of specialists in Tullahoma, Manchester and Winchester that will see our patients at discounted rates,” said Ruyten. Area hospitals like Harton Regional Medical Center in Tullahoma, Unity Medical Center in Manchester and Southern Tennessee Medical Center in Winchester also offer discounted rates to Partners for Healing patients. That’s because, Ruyten said, “they recognize that if we are seeing them for their essential primary doctor visits then they are not utilizing the emergency room as their primary care doctor. They are getting consistent continuity of care and that is huge because that’s how blood sugars come down in diabetics, that’s how high blood pressure numbers come down. That’s how you manage carefully.” Henry is quick to point out that by no means is Partners for Healing meant to take the place of health insurance. While the clinic can address most basic health care needs; should a patient face serious illness, discounts at referral medical centers can only go so far to offset the high price of health care. “We are basically primary care,” said Henry. “You can’t compare this to health insurance. If you had to go to the hospital, we would not be able to help you. If you had to go have surgery, we have nothing for you. “If you want protection, you need health insurance. This is a safety net providing some essential services that, if you can’t get the insurance, we’ll try to provide.” Ruyten agreed. “Insurance is best, always, if it’s affordable,” she said. “But if it’s not, they need an option. That’s why we’re here.” “We’re here to help folks who are working and trying to take care of their families,” she said. “Any time (the community) wants to help families who are helping themselves; that’s what we do. That’s what we’re about.” Direct donations can be made using PayPal on the Partners website: http://www.partnersforhealing.org. For more information, follow Partners for Healing on Facebook or call 931-455-5014.