As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Poor People Can Just Go To Free Clinics

I'm sure that the right thinks there's no need for health care reform because the system works great right now. If you get sick you go to the emergency room, and Bob's your uncle. Here's GoOPer Jack Kingston saying basically that. And here's Connecticut for Lieberman's own Joe Lieberman saying how great the current system working, meaning there's no need for a public option.

On Planet Reality, the only reason that the American system doesn't look like a total nightmare, I mean a people-dying-in-the-streets nightmare, is because of numerous local efforts to keep things afloat. The "just go to the ER" approach adds tens of billions to health care costs. But even that isn't being used to the extent it could, because of the existence of free community clinics. Which will cease to exist before long, on the current trajectory.

The Mission of Mercy, a group of traveling clinics that circulate through towns in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas and Arizona, is one of more than 1,200 free clinics across the nation that are feeling the effects of the economic downturn.

Their patient lists are growing as Americans lose their jobs and their health insurance, but as demand grows with rising unemployment, their donations are dwindling. This year, Mission of Mercy has $350,000 less than it did last year; it takes no government funds for its services.

"People are so afraid to give now, because they're thinking they could lose their job next," said Linda Ryan, the executive director of Mission of Mercy. "We're squished because we have more people in need; we need to grow now more than ever — who knows what will happen with health care?"

Over the past year, free clinics across the country have seen a 20 percent decrease in donations and a 40 percent to 50 percent increase in patients, said Nicole D. Lamoureux, the executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics. Last year, the clinics the association represents — which largely have been excluded from the health care debate — treated 4 million people. This year, Lamoureux expects, they'll serve some 8 million, 83 percent of whom come from homes in which at least one person works full time.

"Quite frankly, the need is so great at some point in time we'll hit a place where we have to say we need to start cutting," Lamoureux said. "We'd like to be a part of those discussions (on health care.) We really need to make sure that this legislation gives the people we serve access to quality health care."

The New York Times did a good story on one of these clinics, in Milwaukee, which is doing its best but cannot hope to survive given the increase in demand.

The current system forces many of the nation's poor, even people who have jobs, EVEN PEOPLE WHO HAVE COVERAGE through Medicaid or Medicare, to visit these community clinics, which just don't have the funds to survive. There are often no other options for primary care. These clinics are the last line of defense and they're failing. They're staffed by good people who selflessly seek to protect and care for everyone regardless of ability to pay. They won't exist in a decade.

And then everyone will TRULY see the consequences of a for-profit health care system, if no reform is accomplished.

Labels: , , , , , ,