C-U townships: Health care overhaul freeing up budget room

C-U townships: Health care overhaul freeing up budget room

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign-Urbana's township supervisors say the Affordable Care Act is going to free up a significant portion of their budgets — which ultimately means more services will be available to the poorest people in the two cities.

Until now, the township governments in Champaign and Urbana have been responsible for covering the costs of prescription medication and catastrophic health events for dozens of their clients. But as those clients start to get health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the township supervisors say they'll be able to shift that money to new services for the poor or larger general assistance disbursements.

The City of Champaign Township and Cunningham Township in Urbana are set up to provide welfare for people who have few other resources — typically the poorest people in either city. The primary service is general assistance: a $245 monthly payment to qualified candidates to pay for basic living needs.

The City of Champaign Township had 41 clients this month — that number fluctuates a bit from month to month — and 17 of them have already received coverage under the Affordable Care Act, said Township Supervisor Andy Quarnstrom. The rest are awaiting approval.

That gets the township off the hook for prescription medication costs for those clients.

Quarnstrom said he's taking a wait-and-see approach before he makes any big moves, but it appears the township will be able to save at least $20,000 annually in money it previously used for health care.

Cunningham Township Supervisor Michelle Mayol is already moving. The Urbana township is using the newly freed money to start up some services that the Affordable Care Act won't cover — dental work, for example.

Mayol said the township has found a dentist who has agreed to see township clients at a discounted rate. In addition to seeing to clients' dental health, he will also do denture work.

That's important for township clients, some of whom have no teeth, Mayol said.

"It's about appearance," she said. "People feel insecure when they have no teeth at all. We have a couple of clients that have no teeth. With the job market the way it is, they're looked at, in my opinion, differently because they have no teeth."

Dentures — and good health in general — make township clients more employable and give them a leg up to ultimately get off welfare, Mayol said.

"This is not a way of life," Mayol said. "It is a stepping stone, hopefully helping someone to become employed."

Mayol said the township is also looking to work with someone to provide hearing aids for clients who need them.

Quarnstrom said the City of Champaign Township is still waiting, but it might be able to drop the insurance it carries to pay for its clients' catastrophic health events, like a heart attack. The township pays $2,500 annually in premiums for that insurance.

"Our liability is reduced to the cost of a co-pay," Quarnstrom said.

He's waiting to see how it shakes out, though. He said a lot of this is uncharted territory.

"Nothing's ever been tested," Quarnstrom said. "I, for one, don't want to be the first test."

If it works out, though, Quarnstrom said the township might be able to bump up the $245 monthly general assistance payment it gives to clients. He said that when $245 is the bulk of your income, even a small increase goes a long way.

"Even $5 is significant in that it could buy a meal one day," Quarnstrom said.

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