Local Non-Profit Celebrates 35 Years of Grassroots Organizing for Health Care Access & Justice
July 3, 2012
Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) is celebrating 35 years of grassroots organizing for health care access and justice! Thanks to your continued support and involvement, CCHCC has had a definitive and lasting impact on our local health care system since 1977. Please read on to learn about the many ways our work has improved our local health care system, and how you can support our ongoing work.
You might be surprised to know that many of the local programs and services that improve our community’s health, and that we now take for granted, came about as a result of CCHCC’s community organizing work – services such as school breakfast programs in county schools, hospital financial assistance programs for low-income people, nurse-midwives programs, prenatal care for low-income women, public health for county residents, free dental care for low-income county children, and more! These, and many more programs, are lasting legacies which CCHCC, with your involvement and support, has given our community.
From its inception, CCHCC has been committed to improving the health care system by making it more responsive to consumer needs. Often, this has required uncovering abuses within the system and challenging unfair policies. Even though these protests have received the most media attention and fanfare, CCHCC is proudest of the program initiatives and positive developments with our local health care system that are a direct result of our work – work that involves bringing consumers together with health care providers to build enduring programs and services that improve people’s lives and health.
Please read below through four “then and now” examples of our work that highlight CCHCC’s impact. We have selected “clippings” from old CCHCC newsletters to highlight the “then” part of the example. Enjoy!
From CCHCC’s Summer 1983 Newsletter
Then… In 1982, CCHCC’s Women’s Health Task Force began organizing to address the problem of lack of birthing options for local women. Women were especially interested in birthing options that allowed for minimal medical intervention, and there was a growing demand for nurse midwifery services, which were not available in Champaign County at that time. Physician support was critical because state law requires that nurse midwives practice under the supervision of an obstetrician-gynecologist.
After one year of intense community organizing, the Women’s Health Task Force persuaded the local medical establishment to reverse their opposition to midwifery, opening the door to the first nurse-midwife in Champaign County’s history. Within months, Barbara McFarlin, RN, CNM, established her practice, and for the first time in decades, women had a new birthing alternative. From there, major health care providers actively recruited and offered nurse-midwives.
Now… Nurse-Midwives are now an accepted and permanent component of the local health care delivery system. Both Provena Covenant and Carle offer Nurse-Midwives. And in fact, Carle boasts that “Carle’s midwifery practice is the largest in downstate Illinois, with more than 50 years of combined experience.”
From CCHCC’s October 1987 Newsletter
Then… In 1981 and 1982, CCHCC’s Low Income Task Force conducted a two-year campaign which led to a tenfold increase in free and discounted care provided by Mercy, Burnham, and Carle hospitals under federal Hill-Burton regulations.
Due to the sudden increase in Hill-Burton applications, hospitals announced that within the year they would no longer be required to provide free and low cost care to the poor, as they had met their federal Hill-Burton obligations.
In an unprecedented move, Burnham and Mercy Hospitals agreed to provide free and discounted care to low-income individuals who had no insurance. These were to become permanent financial assistance programs for low income community members.
Between 1983 and 1987, CCHCC’s Low Income Task Force fought publicly with Carle Hospital about Medicaid discrimination and the creation of financial assistance programs for low-income individuals. In 1987, Carle Hospital agreed to meet with CCHCC’s Task Force to begin talks, and these talks resulted in the establishment of a free and low cost hospital care program for the poor at Carle in 1987.
Now… After many struggles over the past two decades, Carle Hospital’s financial assistance program is one of the most generous and user-friendly programs in the country, and has been held up as a model program. Since 2004, Carle has been meeting monthly with representatives from CCHCC’s Health Care Access Task Force to improve its financial assistance program and to find ways to better serve low income community members.
In 2010, Carle Hospital and Carle Clinic merged to become one single non-profit entity. CCHCC worked with Carle to ensure that this merger and conversion of the Clinic to non-profit would result in Carle expanding its financial assistance program to cover medically-necessary outpatient services (including doctors’ visits, diagnostic tests, and procedures). And now, on a daily basis, CCHCC’s Consumer Health Hotline helps low-income consumers apply and qualify for discounts at Carle, and get the care that they need.
But CCHCC’s impact was not just local. As a result of CCHCC’s work, and our local hospitals’ establishment of hospital financial assistance programs, it has now become the expectation nationally that non-profit tax-exempt hospitals must provide financial assistance to low-income individuals. Non-profit hospital financial assistance obligations have become the subject of legal rulings, Congressional hearings, media coverage, and even part of the national health reform law. Low-income consumers throughout the country are benefiting from the legacy of CCHCC’s work when they receive hospital financial assistance in their communities.
to Seniors, Creates Medicare 100/Plus Program
From CCHCC’s September 1984 Newsletter
Then… In 1983, a CCHCC survey of senior citizens identified high out-of-pocket medical costs as the top concern among seniors. In response, CCHCC established the Senior Citizen Task Force.
At a meeting with 150 members of CCHCC’s Senior Citizen Task Force, Burnham Hospital officials agreed to discuss possible solutions to the problem of high medical expenses. Seniors gave testimony about the inadequacy of Medicare coverage and about their high medical bills after Medicare paid its portion. They said that most doctors charged far more than Medicare would cover and they wanted the hospital and doctors to accept “Medicare assignment” as payment in full for low-income seniors.
A Burnham Hospital representative pledged to work with the CCHCC Senior Citizen Task Force to discuss local solutions to these problems. It was the first time that any local health care provider agreed to negotiate with area seniors regarding Medicare.
The result of these negotiations was the creation in 1984 of the Medicare 100/Plus Program. This unique program offered substantially reduced out-of-pocket costs for low-income seniors with Medicare at Burnham Hospital. Medicare 100/Plus practically eliminated out-of-pocket hospital and doctor bills for low-income seniors. By 1987, nearly 1,500 local seniors were enrolled in the program, and additional benefits were added over time as the Senior Task Force negotiated with a variety of health care providers.
When Burnham and Mercy hospitals merged to become Covenant hospital, the CCHCC Senior Task Force successfully negotiated to have Covenant hospital participate in, and honor the Medicare 100/Plus Program. Covenant participated in the Medicare 100/Plus Program until 1999, when it was discontinued after Covenant became part of the Provena Health System.
CCHCC’s Medicare Task Force fought Provena Covenant to reinstate the Medicare 100/Plus Program. This was a five-year community organizing struggle that also included a lawsuit filed by CCHCC against Provena Covenant. In 2005, Provena Covenant agreed to reinstate the Medicare 100/Plus Program with some modifications.
Now… The Medicare 100/Plus Program is alive and well at Provena Covenant Medical Center, in collaboration with CCHCC. Hundreds of low-income local seniors participate in the Program, saving thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket medical costs each year. The program is free and allows members to pre-qualify for, and receive, Medicare Part A hospital discounts at Provena Covenant Medical Center and other services provided and billed by Provena Covenant.
This program is a national model that has been replicated in various communities throughout the country.
From CCHCC’s Fall 1980 Newsletter
Then… Since its formation in 1977, CCHCC increasingly became a community resource where local consumers turned for help or to report problems they encountered with the health care system. As more and more consumers called, CCHCC responded by establishing the Consumer Health Hotline in 1980.
CCHCC’s vision for the Hotline was that it would be staffed by trained volunteer Advocates who would work one-on-one with local consumers to provide information, referral, assistance, and advocacy services. Over the years, the Hotline has served thousands of consumers, and has been staffed by hundreds of trained volunteer Advocates.
Now… The Hotline continues to serve as a free community resource for the hundreds of Champaign County residents who call each month, needing help navigating the health care system.
Volunteer Advocates are trained to work with consumers on a range of issues, including access to dental and health care, financial assistance, medical debt, prescription drug access, and qualifying for public benefits (such as food stamps, Medicaid, etc.).
Most of CCHCC’s community organizing campaigns grow out of calls to the Hotline, as affected consumers are brought together to work to create systemic change.
Thanks to your support and involvement – whether as a contributor, a volunteer, an Advocate, a Task Force member, or someone who responds to CCHCC’s calls to action – CCHCC has had a tremendous impact on our health care system over the past 35 years.
We stand by our founding premise that meaningful reforms of the health care system can only take place when consumers are active in the decision-making process.
Please join us in continuing our work for another 35 years! Imagine what we might be able to accomplish with your support and involvement!
Claudia Lennhoff, Executive Director
Please help support CCHCC’s work for health care access and justice in our community for another 35 years - tell us how you would like to help!
1) I want to join a CCHCC Task Force!
- Health Care Access Task Force
Meetings: Second Thursday of each month, 6 p.m., Wesley United Methodist Church
- Medicare Task Force
Meetings: Third Thursday of each month, 10:30 a.m., Provena Center for Healthy Aging
- 5th & Hill Neghborhood Rights Campaign (environmental justice)
Meetings: First and third Monday of each month, 6 p.m.
2) I want to volunteer with CCHCC!
Click here for more details.
3) I want to spread the word and take action!
4) I need help (or have a consumer health question)!
Call the Hotline: Contact (217) 352-6533, ext. 6508 or just ask for the Hotline.
5) I would like to make a contribution to support CCHCC!