Volunteer-Staffed, Free Clinics Help the Uninsured
In all the talk of universal coverage, few admit that a Medicaid card often does little to increase access to health care. However, volunteer-staffed free clinics are doing just that across the country. With minimal government funds and no Medicaid money, free clinics are mostly staffed by volunteer (often retired) physicians, nurses and health care professionals. They provide free primary and preventative care to the truly uninsured and referrals to participating volunteer specialists and other health care providers.
These clinics help connect the uninsured to free sample medications or patient assistance programs provided by drug companies. They epitomize a local, charitable community response to the real needs of the uninsured.
However, states can do more to encourage these clinics by providing medical liability protection for the volunteer medical staff. Those states that do – unlike New York – have more clinics and increased help to the uninsured, as I recently noted in a NY Post op ed.
After approving similar liability protection, Virginia (978,000 uninsured) now has 40 such free clinics, according to the National Association of Free Clinics. North Carolina (1.4 million uninsured) has a similar provision and more than 50 free clinics.
Volunteers in Medicine, based in Vermont, also provides a model for setting up free clinics in numerous states.
Maine has liability protection to volunteer medical staff, but very few free clinics, according to the National Association of Free Clinics. As the state with the oldest median age, many retirees and 122,000 uninsured, we should be promoting this charitable, community-based endeavor as opposed to always turning to the government.