Local Medical Charity Project Access® Awarded $500,000 Grant by The Duke Endowment

July 14, 2015

ASHEVILLE. N.C. (June 24, 2015) – Together with Western Carolina Medical Society Foundation (WCMS Foundation), Mission Foundation today announced it has been awarded a $500,000 grant from The Duke Endowment to cover funding shortfalls in WCMS Foundation’s Project Access® charity medical care program. Project Access® offers access to free healthcare for low income, uninsured residents of Buncombe County.  The funding shortfall for Project Access® occurred as a result of ripple effects from North Carolina’s decision not to participate in Medicaid expansion.

“We are deeply grateful for The Duke Endowment’s support of Project Access® services so that we may continue to sustain, strengthen and improve access to health care services for our most vulnerable populations, those with the greatest need,” said Miriam Schwarz, CEO and executive director of WCMS. “It is critical that Project Access® remains robust during these challenging times.” 

The 2014 County Health Rankings, published by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, show that 20% of the population in Buncombe County under age 65 is uninsured.  That is an estimated 30,000 people in Buncombe County living without health insurance; and of those over 8,000 are living below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level.

Across North Carolina, Medicaid expansion was expected to have covered an additional 550,000 uninsured people. According to Buncombe County’s Health and Human Services estimates, the expansion would have provided an additional 12,000 low-income, uninsured people in Buncombe County with Medicaid eligibility, which in turn would have helped them with access to primary care.

In a time where the NC legislature has opted not to expand Medicaid for all low-income residents of North Carolina, and subsidies are not available for the poorest people in our state to buy health insurance, the charitable work of the WCMS Foundation is nothing short of life-saving.  Low-income individuals who aren’t eligible for subsidies in the Affordable Care Act and don’t qualify for current Medicaid eligibility are enrolled in Project Access®.  Without Project Access®, they couldn’t afford the healthcare they desperately need.

Project Access® provides its patients with comprehensive array of free health care services, including primary care, specialty care, hospital services, labs, medications, medical equipment, interpreter services, and care management. Project Access® is an innovative physician volunteer initiative that provides a way for participants to stabilize their health despite financial barriers to carry them over to a time when health insurance might be more attainable for them either through employment or government programs.

The Affordable Care Act offers insurance subsidies to those who are living above 100% of the Federal Poverty Level.  That’s a minimum income of $11,777 a year for a single person, or $24,250 a year for a family of 4.  The Affordable Care Act was written under the assumptions that states would expand Medicaid to cover those below 100% of the FPL.  North Carolina legislatures voted not to do this and Medicaid in North Carolina does not cover everyone below 100% of the FPL.  This means that the poorest of the poor are often left without any affordable health insurance options.  For instance, a married couple with adult children who earn less than $15,930 a year would not be eligible for either Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act.  In cases like this, Project Access® is there to help.

Through Project Access®, physicians and dozens of community partners donate their time and services to patients without receiving reimbursement or compensation. Project Access® volunteers donated and leveraged more than $7 million in services to nearly 3,000 patients in 2014, with over $5 million of those services donated by Mission Hospital.

“The Duke Endowment grant fills an urgent need in our community and allows Project Access® to care for patients in the best setting – in the outpatient setting, and even better, in a primary care home,” said William Hathaway, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at Mission Health and a long-time Project Access Physician Task Force member and volunteer. “The funding allows us to coordinate preventive and wellness care that keeps patients’ overall health at a higher level, and with Project Access these patients get a primary care home and access to specialty care. As a result, our volunteer physicians limit the episodes of crisis care such as hospitalization or emergency care, which is always more expensive and less desirable for patients.”

The WCMS Foundation also serves as a Certified Application Counselor Entity, and all Project Access® patients are screened for their eligibility to get health insurance through North Carolina’s Health Insurance Marketplace established via the Affordable Care Act.  To date, the WCMS Foundation has helped over 160 previously uninsured individuals get health insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplace. “Helping Project Access® patients apply for the Health Insurance Marketplace and be eligible for health insurance is great,” said Shaneka Simmons, the Health Access Coordinator of the WCMS Foundation.  “I love to see the joy and relief that the patient has knowing that they can now go and see their primary care physician and have insurance to cover the bulk of the cost. Helping patients access affordable, high quality health care is what we do and I absolutely love it!” Simmons said.

With the grant funding, Project Access® is positioned to serve the uninsured lacking Medicaid eligibility and  sustain its efforts to keep patients out of the emergency department and the hospital by moving healthcare services for the uninsured upstream to the outpatient setting.

About Mission Foundation
Mission Foundation, Inc. connects the generosity of a caring community with opportunities to improve lives through better healthcare. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) “public charity” governed by a volunteer board of 28 trustees representing the local community. Since its founding in 1985, Mission Hospital’s centennial year, the Foundation has solicited and received more than $150 million in gifts and grants from all parts of Western North Carolina, the state and the Southeast as well as nationally. During its history the Foundation has conducted successful major capital campaigns that have helped create several “Centers of Excellence” at Mission Hospital in Asheville. The Foundation is the only Asheville-based non-profit to have attained nationwide accreditation by Charity Wise Alliance of the U.S. Better Business Bureau, meeting all 20 national standards. More information is available at missionfoundation.org.

About The Duke Endowment
Based in Charlotte, N.C., and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $3 billion in grants.

About the WCMS Foundation

The Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, is the physician and community-led charitable arm of the medical society, addressing issues of access to quality healthcare, disparities in health, and health & wellness.

WCMS Foundation is respected for its leadership and innovation in addressing issues of access to quality health care and disparities in health. These activities are carried out through collaboration, education, advocacy, innovation, research, public policy, and fundraising.