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Good News Clinics awaits national health reform outcome
Arguments go before Supreme Court in March
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While Good News Clinics' mission has always been focused on the uninsured in Hall County, its leaders will be glancing toward Washington in the months ahead to see how national heath care reform will shape the services the free clinic provides.

The stated aim of the hotly debated 2010 legislation is to reduce the number of uninsured in America and make health care more affordable.

Despite the lofty goals, Cheryl Christian, executive director of Good News Clinics, believes the clinic still will be needed as a safety net.

"We feel like there will always be people to fall between the cracks and there will be some gaps in service," she said.

For now, though, some of the key components of the health care law, like the individual mandate, have not taken effect. And implementation of the reform is not a done deal.

Arguments about the legislation go before the Supreme Court in March, where justices could rule portions of the law, or all of it, unconstitutional. In addition, Republican presidential hopefuls and conservatives in Congress are promising its repeal if the high court doesn't deliver and they gain power.

That leaves free clinics like Good News taking a wait-and-see approach.

"We are kind of in a state of flux," said Donna Looper, executive director of the Georgia Charitable Care Network, which advises clinics such as Good News on the direction of such changes.

If implemented, national health care reform is expected to bring changes to how charitable clinics operate, said Looper. But the scale and details of those changes aren't known yet.

What's not expected is that everyone will have insurance. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, 23 million people in America will remain without health insurance by 2019 if the individual mandate takes effect in 2014.

Bill Rezak, a Good News Clinics board member, estimates there are about 13,000 uninsured Hall residents. Christian anticipates a population of illegal immigrants still needing care.

Additionally, there are medical services not addressed in the reform. The law doesn't include dental or vision care, Christian said. The clinic, which provides both, could beef up those services for Hall's indigent population.

A bigger issue could continue to be patient access to care.

Even if more patients are covered by insurance, Looper said it isn't clear local health systems will be equipped to manage care for everyone.

"You may be covered, the trouble may be getting to see a physician," she said.

Christian said regardless of how things change, the clinic's leadership and doctors are dedicated to serving underserved patients.

"We are open to change," she said. "We just can't say what that is right now."