Kicking off ObamaCare

Health Centers for low-income people in West New York and Jersey City gear up

A pouring rain didn’t dampen kids’ spirits at this year’s annual celebration of National Health Center Week at the West New York and Jersey City sites of the Metropolitan Family Health Network (MFHN).
Tables full of literature, free rides, and the back beat of great dance music were put on hold for just one day, but for the other two days, clear skies brought out a host of smiling faces and happy children at an event that highlighted the year’s accomplishments.
The annual event, held from Aug. 13 to 15, wasn’t just fun and games. It also launched a push to implement the Affordable Care Act, commonly known at Obamacare.
The theme this year was “Transforming Health Care in Our Local Communities,” reflecting the many ways that America’s health centers—especially Federally Qualified Community Health Centers like MFHN—are reaching into their communities and improving the health of the people who live and work there.
“This message is particularly important because we began implementing the Affordable Care Act this year,” said Joan Dublin, president and chief executive officer of Metropolitan. “This is to make sure that everyone in our community has affordable, top-quality healthcare.”
Each year Metropolitan—which offers a full roster of affordable and accessible healthcare including dental and podiatry—has about 50,000 patient visits.
At 935 Garfield Ave. in Jersey City and 5300 Bergenline Ave. in West New York, MFHN is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that provides a comprehensive menu of ambulatory healthcare services.
With financial support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, MFHN became the newest FQHC in Hudson County in the fall of 2006. The goal of the new center is to make primary healthcare services more accessible to families.

“It’s over 40 years old, and millions of Americans have been able to receive quality healthcare that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive.” – Dennis Gonzalez
MFHN accepts most health insurance as well as Medicare and Medicaid, and has a sliding fee scale for patients who do not have insurance. MFHN never turns patients away because they cannot pay.
For 46 years, the second week of August has been set aside for recognition of health centers, outstanding contributions to local communities, and the role healthcare centers play in providing affordable, quality cost-effective healthcare to all people regardless of their ability to pay. Services include dental, substance abuse, pharmacy, and mental health.
The annual event offered free health and dental screenings, fitness classes, workshops, games, giveaways, and more.
But this year, the event took on additional significance as both centers, which serve Bayonne, Union City, Secaucus, Weehawken, Jersey City, and other towns, began to implement the long anticipated ObamaCare, a national healthcare initiative designed to make certain that everyone has basic insurance coverage.
The ceremonies included appearances by a number of elected officials, including Dennis E. Gonzalez, executive officer of the Office of the Secretary, Region II – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Also in attendance were Freeholder Jeff Dublin, Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavaro, Jersey City Councilwoman Joyce Waterman, and Erica Daughtry representing Rep. Albio Sires.
Gonzalez has been to the center three times over the last six months, once in the company of Gov. Christopher Christie, Dublin said, and he returned a few weeks ago to kick of the center’s Medicaid/Medicaid services at the health center.
President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act helped solidify these centers, providing $11 billion for such centers over the next five years, including $66 million that has already reached centers in New Jersey.
“The work that is being done at metropolitan is critical,” Lavaro said. “Now that we’re moving with the Affordable Care Act, Metropolitan is stepping up with navigators to help people in our community find the necessary care that they need.”

A big role in ObamaCare

“The reason this center was chosen for these occasions is because of the very significant work done here,” Gonzalez said. “Federally Qualified Health Centers are the gem of the department of Health and Human Services. We are the largest department in the federal government and we have more than 300 different programs. But the one that impacts the most people across the country is our QHC program. It’s over 40 years old and millions of Americans have been able to receive quality healthcare that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive. These centers see everybody, regardless of their ability to pay or even their legal status.”
While the Affordable Care Act will be able to help a lot of people, undocumented people will not be able to access the marketplace.
“So the safety net for those individuals is these centers,” Gonzalez said. “This is why we’re pumping billions of dollars through the Affordable Care Act into these centers.”
The marketplace for insurance purchases, which is the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, will start Jan. 1, 2014. Enrollment begins Oct. 1, 2013. Almost a million New Jersey residents are uninsured and about 100,000 in Hudson County, Gonzalez said, noting that Metropolitan branches in Hudson County are critical in the effort to get people healthcare.
“These centers thrive when they have the support of local officials,” he said. “Up to this point, until the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, only a select few Americans were able to get insurance. You either got it through your employer or you got it on your own because you could afford it. Now we have, through this law, built a system just about every American will be able to get health insurance.”
These centers, according to representatives from Metropolitan, develop strong partnerships among the people, governments, and communities who work together to meet the unique and diverse health conditions of the community. For more information call (201) 478-5836 or visit

Al Sullivan may be reached at

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