On the outside, nothing appears different at the doctors’ clinic on the east edge of town.
On the inside, two longtime physicians with The Family Physicians have split off to join the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.
Drs. Glen Singer and Brian Wolfe, along with several nurses and other employees, officially became employees of the CHC/SEK on Monday.
Drs. Becky Lohman, Frank Porter and Tim Spears and their crew will remain under the umbrella of The Family Physicians. The three physicians are in the process of buying The Family Physicians from Singer and Wolfe, who formed the practice in 1988.
The two practices will share their current location. Even the phone number, 365-3115, will connect patients to either practice.
SINGER and Wolfe joined the CHC/SEK so they could treat a broader spectrum of patients, they said Wednesday evening. The Pittsburg-based clinic is a federally qualified health clinic, which means its purpose is to help serve a populace that cannot afford adequate health care. All of southeast Kansas is designated as such. The CHC/SEK also has a combination of medical, dental and mental health clinics in Pittsburg, Coffeyville, Baxter Springs and Independence.
The designation garners higher reimbursement rates from the federal government for patient charges. The federally funded clinic is also referred to as a safety net clinic in that it “catches” people who otherwise would not be treated by health professionals in private practice.
The new clinic will accept patients with or without health insurance. About 1,800-2,000 Allen County residents do not have any form of health insurance, either through private pay, Medicare or Medicaid, according to state statistics.
“Money will now not be an obstacle to receiving health care in Iola,” said Krista Postai, executive director of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.
Charges are based on one’s ability to pay. Discounts will be available for those making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. A family of four whose income is $47,100, for example, will pay 75 percent of what is charged to see the doctor. The same family size living at the federal poverty level, which would be $23,550, will be charged $10 for an appointment.
The fee system works the same as the CHC’s dental clinic, also in the complex of the doctors’ clinic and the Iola Pharmacy’s drive-through. The dental clinic opened in 2008.
Also to be included in the fee schedule will be charges for prescriptions and mental health care, Postai said.
“We’re in the works with both the local mental health center and local pharmacists to secure their services at the Iola clinic,” she said. Postai hopes that by the first of 2014, an agreement will be settled with Iola Pharmacy to provide low-cost medications for the new clinic. Until that time, patients will be able to receive reduced-cost medications by mail from the pharmacy that works with the Pittsburg-based clinic, Postai said.
“We know many of our elderly patients, especially, have to make the decision whether to buy food, or their medicine,” she said.
Postai said medicines to treat diabetes and hypertension — conditions prevalent in Southeast Kansas — are “prohibitively expensive.”
As for mental health, the clinic is in negotiations with Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center to contract a psychologist to work in-house.
“Sometimes a patient comes in with pain that a physician cannot diagnose,” Postai said. “Sometimes its cause is anxiety. In that case, the patient is better seeing a mental health professional, not a physician.
“Now we can send the patient across the hall — not across town and a week later — to discuss his or her situation with the appropriate professional. This is real-time intervention. Marrying mental health care with physical health care is a new model of health care that treats the whole patient,” Postai said.
The clinic also is in negotiations to secure a physician who will practice obstetrics, Postai said, a concentration both Singer and Wolfe gave up years ago.
AS FOR Drs. Singer and Wolfe, being able to treat patients of all income levels, whether or not they have health insurance, has been a career goal, they said.
However noble that may seem, it is not suitable for most private practices, which must rely primarily on private health insurance and Medicare for adequate reimbursement. Attending to patients on Medicaid, they said, is a money-loser because of its low reimbursement rate to a private practice.
For years, the practice has had to write off as bad debt the unpaid bills generated by patients without adequate means. That practice has also prevented return visits by those who owe and goes against the tenet that preventive health care is the best health care.
“Now when Mrs. Jones says she doesn’t have health insurance, I can say ‘no problem,’” said Wolfe.