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Medicaid now accepted at Carroll health clinic

A community health clinic in Carroll County that serves low-income residents will soon begin accepting Medicaid, thanks to funding from the state and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

Access Carroll, a nonprofit clinic that provides a variety of medical and dental services, received a total of $309,125 from CareFirst and the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission (CHRC).

CareFirst contributed $184,125, while CHRC contributed $125,000 to the grant, which was announced Wednesday at the Westminster clinic.

Access Carroll will use the money to install a new billing system that will enable providers to accept Medicaid patients. That’s significant because the recent expansion of Medicaid in Maryland has brought thousands of previously uninsured people into an already overloaded health care system.

Maryland was one of nearly 30 states that opted to expand Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act.

About 355,280 Marylanders were newly enrolled in Medicaid this year, according to the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, with about 20,400 of them residing in Carroll County. But those people now have to figure out where to go for medical care.

In some areas of the state, and in regions across the country, finding providers who accept that form of insurance can be difficult, because many physicians believe Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low.

Many of the newly insured individuals previously went to clinics that serve low-income people, like Access Carroll. But now, they might be turned away unless the clinic can bill Medicaid.

So, some community clinics are scrambling to restructure their operations to accommodate the same population of people as they served before. Health care advocates say it’s preferable for patients to be seen in a consistent setting by the same provider or group of providers. Switching from one physician to another can disrupt an individual’s care plan, experts say.

Access Carroll, which opened in 2005, anticipates its new billing system will be up and running by October. When that happens, the clinic will start generating an entirely new revenue stream, which will help Access Carroll offer even more services.

The new funding from CareFirst and the state will also be used to expand existing services at the clinic, which will continue seeing patients who remain uninsured.

Access Carroll officials say the clinic is the only health care center in the county that offers free and reduced-cost medical and dental services to low-income people. The clinic serves about 3,000 patients annually, and officials expect to see an additional 700 patients each year for the next few years.