The Free Clinic has served as an important safety net for people without affordable access to health benefits. The target population in general are qualified, pre-screened patients between the ages of 19-65 with incomes at or below 250 percent of the Federal poverty level. They are eligible to receive medical, vision and prescription drug services. Qualified patients are either “too rich” for Medicaid, or “too young for Medicare”.
Another important desired result will directly help the local hospitals find temporary primary medical homes for the “frequent flyer”. That is the uninsured patient who repeatedly and unnecessarily uses the Hospital Emergency Departments for their ongoing care. This creates and enormous financial burden on the hospitals. If the Free Clinic did not exist, it is safe to say that many, many more patients would flock to the local ER to treat colds and ear aches.
It is important to note that many people needing the services of the Free Clinic are perhaps one step away from financial ruin. Medical expenses are the second leading cause of personal bankruptcies. One week in medical intensive care will cost $11,000! The all too familiar cliché “of falling through the cracks” has forced many people to choose between food, utilities, housing, warm clothing for their children or healthcare. Often times, the latter does not make the cut.
Hopefully for the uninsured Free Clinic patient, choosing is made a little easier knowing that medical care access is available and that they are in a sense, “covered”. In essence, the Free Clinic, and Free Clinics statewide are reducing the uninsured ranks, by providing a temporary medical home for the most vulnerable.
The existence of free clinics, and other safety net providers, is not a substitute for health insurance coverage. There are limits to the amount of health care services that can be provided by volunteers. While we don’t believe we’ve reached our limit yet, we know that free clinics are not the solution to the health care crisis. However, until that solution is created and successfully implemented, the Lorain County Free Clinic will continue to provide hope and healing to those who have few, if any other options.