Ozarks Doctors See Influx of Patients Resulting From ACA

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- It's been almost four months since the March 31st deadline to enroll in health care through the Affordable Care Act and doctors are experiencing a significant increase in patients with the new marketplace insurance.

"We've definitely seen an increase in patients," said Dr. Barbara Bumberry, a family physician at Mercy Hospital.

For Dr. Bumberry, this means 80 new patients, many with chronic problems developed after years without a checkup.

"I definitely had patients come to me that haven't had insurance in 10 years, or haven't had any kind of healthcare," Dr. Bumberry said.

New patients translate to long hours and few breaks, even with the help of a physician assistant.

"I have had to limit the number of new patients I'll see a day, because they take a little longer, just getting established with them and we still want to be able to continue to see our existing patients," said Dr. Bumberry.

The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to provide greater access to health insurance. But at many free clinics, like The Kitchen in Springfield, there hasn't been much of a change in the patient pool.

"We think we have about five who we've documented who have gotten the Affordable Care Act," said Misty Jordan, Coordinator of Health Services at The Kitchen.

The Kitchen primarily provides medical and dental services to the uninsured.

"The patients that were supposed to be affected were the ones in the Medicaid expansion gap and since Missouri did not pick up the Medicaid expansion, most of our patients are in the same position they were before the Affordable Care Act came along," said Jordan.

Jordan Valley Community Health Center cites a 2-percent increase in their patients who went from self-pay to commercial insurance.

Despite this, Dr. Bumberry said with the influx of patients now with insurance, the quality of healthcare may one day become a concern.

"Since the Affordable Care Act is still pretty new, we're not sure in the long-run how long it's going to affect patient care," said Dr. Bumberry.

Many free health clinics, like The Kitchen, are challenged with funding, since most receive only donations and grants.

The next proposed open enrollment period starts November 15th.

Individuals may also qualify to sign up outside of open enrollment if they experience certain life events-- like the birth of a child.

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