Free clinics strive to catch patients falling through government's cracks

If the Congressional Budget Office's prediction that health reform will leave 23 million people uninsured is correct, free, volunteer-run health clinics throughout the country are apt to find their roles in the healthcare community indispensable.

Idaho's new Canyon County Community Clinic, staffed by 12 volunteers including two physicians, opened its doors yesterday to serve the area's poorest of poor. Envisioned more than a year ago by a local Bible study group, the clinic is free for lower-income, uninsured patients, providing all services and many prescription drugs at no cost.

The 501c3 nonprofit organization is solely dependent on donations of time, money and supplies from local medical professionals and others, and shares somewhat of a symbiotic relationship with patients with nowhere else to turn for healthcare.

"When you look at unemployment statistics in the area and the people who don't have access to healthcare, Obama can't solve all these problems," Lori Rose, an administrative assistant at the clinic, told the Idaho Press-Tribune in reference to health reform. "People have gone years without seeing a doctor because they can't afford it. Terry Reilly [a nearby low-cost clinic] is great with its sliding scale [fees], but sometimes even that's too much for some. We cover the most desperate."

Other established free clinics, such as the Macon Volunteer Clinic in Georgia and Bay County's Helen M. Nickless Volunteer Clinic in Michigan, expressed uncertainty over whether health reform would render them obsolete.

"If it puts us out of business, then I guess that means we've fixed healthcare," Valerie Biskey, a registered nurse who runs the Middle-Georgia clinic, told Macon.com. But while taking a "wait-and-see" approach, Biskey and other officials suspect their services will still be needed. One local employer conjectured, for instance, that with the economy in the state it's in, some businesses may consider paying the $2,000-per-employee penalty for not covering workers rather than paying higher benefit costs.

Bay County Clinic officials are hopeful for the historic legislation's impact on their community's 35,000 uninsured residents, but also fairly certain they'll remain fairly busy. "I suspect we're still going to be in business. I suspect there are still going to be a lot of uninsured people, perhaps not as many as there have been because I think they've opened some windows that they have closed before, but I still think there are going to be people in need," Floyd C. Stevens, MD, one of the clinic's founders, told The Saginaw News.

For more information:
- read the Idaho Press-Tribune article
- read  the Saginaw News article
- read this Macon.com piece

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