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WOOSTER -- Local hospitals and clinics will continue to find ways to care for their communities despite recent setbacks to health care access.
Holmes County and 17 other Ohio counties were left with no plan in the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchange after Anthem announced its departure from the marketplace on June 6.
"Luckily for Holmes County, we have a lot of employers that offer health insurance, and the large Amish population is not affected," said Rebecca Ragon, public relations and marketing coordinator for Pomerene Hospital.
The county has a 2.7 percent unemployment rate -- second lowest in the state -- and an estimated 60 percent of Pomerene's customers either have commercial insurance or take advantage of a private pay plan. The other 40 percent are on Medicare or Medicaid, according to Ragon.
"Our priority is for people to have access to health care and to health insurance," she said. "We will still live out our mission -- Caring for Our Community's Health -- and will continue to see and treat everyone that comes in. Nothing changes."
In Wayne County, Anthem's exit leaves only two options available through the exchange -- CareSource and AultCare. For Wooster Community Hospital, the public insurance exchanges represented 1.2 percent of its total revenue year-to-date May 2017, according to CFO Scott Boyes. Within that category, Anthem was 61.4 percent.
"Health care is expensive," Boyes said. "Wooster Community Hospital will continue to look for ways to keep our costs down and work with local employers to help create sustainable solutions for all of us."
Anthem operates Blue Cross in Ohio and will continue to cover about 3.4 million people across other plans. In a statement, Anthem spokesman Jeff Blunt said, "This was a difficult decision that was only made after thoughtful consideration and ongoing discussions with Ohio's state and regulatory leaders.
"As the marketplace continues to evolve and adjust to changing regulatory requirements and marketplace conditions, we will re-evaluate whether a more robust presence in the exchange is appropriate in the future."
According to Jamie Parsons, executive director of Viola Startzman Clinic, located on Cleveland Road in Wooster, Anthem was one of the least attractive because it was the most expensive. With less competition, Parsons fears the remaining plans will charge more.
The clinic houses the only health care navigator, Carol Labuza, in Holmes and Wayne County, who works with patients to find health coverage options in the marketplace. She is available 40 hours a week and will walk prospective customers through their options.
"Over the last eight years, there's been a dismantling of the safety net. It's either disappeared or shrunk. We saw free clinics closing across the state," Parsons said. "We're one of the few communities that can meet the need."
Holmes County patients are not eligible for care at Viola Startzman Clinic, but they can obtain its dental services.
Reporter Emily Morgan can be reached at 330-287-1632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.