If it wants, Health Care Access could double its $300,000-a-year budget by agreeing to become a federally funded community health center.
"Now is a very good time to consider doing that," said Cathy Harding, an Emporia-based consultant who specializes in helping medical clinics for the poor qualify for Medicaid.
Harding met Tuesday at Lawrence Memorial Hospital with members of a committee that has been studying the future of the Lawrence clinic for the uninsured.
Currently, Health Care Access is not eligible for Â nor has it sought Â Medicaid; instead, it depends on donations.
But if Health Care Access decided to seek Medicaid support, the clinic would have to expand its mission to include care for the poor. Such a move that would put the clinic in an awkward position of competing with the city's for-profit clinics, a group that last year donated more than $1 million in care and services to Health Care Access.
Harding assured the committee that becoming a Medicaid-funded clinic would not affect its role in caring for the uninsured.
"Nationally and in Kansas, the average community health clinic's caseload is somewhere around 95 percent uninsured," she said.
And in most communities, she said, few for-profit clinics lose their Medicaid patients Â young mothers and children, mostly Â to the new clinic.
"There's nothing in this that's intended to compete with local physicians," Harding said.
But committee members weren't so sure. Ernie Angino, a member of Health Care Access' first board of directors, said he feared going after federal funds would lead to the clinic forfeiting its local control.
Committee chairman Pat Parker said he and others are reluctant to risk losing the medical community's support.
"We've spent the past four months bringing the committee up to speed on what the issues are," Parker said. "Today, we reached the point at looking at the other models that are out there. This is the first one; there will be others."
The committee expects to meet five or six more months before making a recommendation, he said.
In Kansas, six community health clinics receive Medicaid funding. The Bush administration last year announced plans to add 1,200 clinics to the 1,029 already on the Medicaid rolls.