NORMAL — Even as the Affordable Care Act has provided health insurance coverage for more people, McLean County's clinic for low-income residents who are uninsured or under-insured remains as busy as ever.

"The Affordable Care Act did not erase the need for improved access," said Angie McLaughlin, executive director of the Community Health Care Clinic.

"Options for health insurance do not mean access to affordable health care," she said. "So our new patient numbers remain constant."

The clinic, which recently moved to a larger building at 900 N. Franklin Ave., treats about 1,100 patients with chronic diseases each year. The clinic has 2,000 patients overall.

"In 2014, we saw a little dip when the expanded Medicaid and the (online) marketplace opened and more people got coverage," she said. But, since then, numbers have been constant as patients move in and out of jobs and health care coverage.

Clinic patients include people who have bronze insurance plans. These plans are affordable with low premiums with high deductibles. People who can't afford to pay their medical bills until they reach their deductible end up at the clinic, McLaughlin said.

At the clinic, care is free but there is a donation box.

Clinic patients also include people who are between jobs, meaning they also are between health insurance plans, she said. Some have new jobs, meaning they no longer qualify for Medicaid, but still can't afford medical bills.

Some patients are people in crisis — such as someone fleeing domestic violence or who is suddenly homeless; they need health care but didn't complete the paperwork for insurance.

And, some are immigrants who are undocumented and were left out of the ACA.

Clinic office staff are spending more time verifying applicants' eligibility and whether care is available elsewhere, including at doctors' offices, Advocate BroMenn Family Health Clinic, Chestnut Family Health Center and Immanuel Health Center.

"We continue to make sure that individuals in our community who have no where else to go for affordable health care are taken care of," McLaughlin said.

With the elected Donald Trump, who as president has promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, McLaughlin anticipates a long-term increase in clinic patients.

"People will look at their options, and, if they see none, they will look to the clinic," she said.

"Our mission, our responsibility, is to provide quality care to people who need us," she said. "Our staff will work hard to continue to serve the under-served — whoever they end up being."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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