Updated June 2013: The following article and slide show about a large-scale, one-day health clinic for the uninsured was published in August 2010. Since that Washington D.C.-based event, the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics has sponsored volunteer-run clinic events in other cities, including New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta,Tacoma and Dallas. If you are uninsured and in need of health care, you can visit the NAFC's website to locate a free health clinic facility in your area. Information is also available for volunteers interested in providing either medical- or non-medical assistance. The next large-scale clinic event is scheduled for Wednesday, July 3 in New Orleans.
En español | For many older Americans who aren't yet 65, these are precarious times: too young for Medicare, but too old, according to many employers, to be hired for jobs with health benefits; too well-off for Medicaid, but too cash-strapped to afford high health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
"Although 2010 has been a historic year with the passage of federal health care reform legislation, uninsured people throughout the country still need medical resources now," says Nicole Lamoureux, executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics, a non-profit that serves more than 1,200 permanent, locally-based free health clinics across the country.
To provide care, and draw public attention to the plight of the nation's uninsured, the NAFC has been hosting special one- and two-day large-scale events in arenas and convention centers. Clinic events have been held in Houston, Atlanta, Little Rock, Hartford and New Orleans, among other cities.
According to the NAFC, 83 percent of uninsured people are employed. As such, most people seeking care at NAFC clinic events are employed or seeking work, but are uninsured due to the high cost of insurance premiums and, often, being denied coverage or affordable coverage because of a pre-existing health condition. (Such individuals should be able to find more health insurance options in 2014, which is when the new health care law is scheduled to go into full effect.)
On August 4, the NAFC turned the arena floor of Washington, D.C.'s convention center into a one-day free clinic.
Ralph Freidin, MD, an internist from Lexington, Mass., is volunteering at his fifth NAFC free clinic event. He takes time off from his job and travels on his own dime. "The diseases are the same here as what I encounter in my practice," he explains. "But instead of seeing high blood pressures of 160/92, we see 190/110. Instead of seeing diabetes that is moderately well controlled, we see diabetes that is out of control."
The stories are the same, clinic after clinic, says Freidin: " 'I don't have insurance.' 'I don't have a doctor.' 'I don't have health care.' " Of the uninsured patients age 50+, Freidin observes, "They are people who might not even make it to Medicare eligibility age."
More than 1,200 patients preregistered for the D.C. event in order to receive free preventive and diagnostic care, including diabetes and cancer screenings. Another 500 or so walk-in patients were treated as well. Nearly 400 medical practitioners volunteered their services, assisted by several hundred nonmedical helpers.
Volunteer Jan Nichols, a newly retired high school teacher, traveled to D.C. from her home in Arizona. Nichols, who is insured through Medicare and views her retirement years as a time to "give back to community and society," was stationed at the entrance when the clinic announced it couldn't serve any more walk-in patients. "I folded," she says. "Even though they were given a bagful of literature and resources, I couldn't look into their faces without cracking."
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