News / USA

Free Health Clinic Treats Uninsured Americans

Free Clinic Treats Uninsured Americansi
|| 0:00:00
X
Laurel Bowman
June 28, 2012 3:33 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law is constitutional, including a requirement that most Americans buy health insurance. Most now get health insurance through their employers, but many workers are not able to get coverage at work. Those workers often don't earn enough to buy insurance on their own, but they are not poor enough to qualify for the free government care known as Medicaid. VOA’s Laurel Bowman visited a free clinic in Arlington, Virginia that treats a tiny portion of the nation’s roughly 50 million uninsured.

Free Clinic Treats Uninsured Americans

Laurel Bowman
ARLINGTON, Virginia - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law is constitutional, including a requirement that most Americans buy health insurance.  Most now get health insurance through their employers, but many workers are not able to get coverage at work. Those workers often don't earn enough to buy insurance on their own, but they are not poor enough to qualify for the free government care known as Medicaid. 

For 25 years, Wilber Smith of Arlington, Virginia, had health insurance through his job as a steam engineer.  Then he lost his job and his insurance.  A few months later, he was diagnosed with cancer.  He tried to get health insurance, but he says he was turned down by every provider he contacted.  Sales people told him his pre-existing health condition -- cancer --barred him from obtaining coverage.

"It was no everywhere and a quick no," he recalls.  "They were like, 'Now?  Now you are coming to us?' I never needed it before because I had always had it."

Smith then found his way to the Arlington Free Clinic in Arlington, Virginia, where he went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment for free, paying only $5 each for some prescriptions and nothing at all when he couldn't afford to pay.  The clinic, which treats 1,600 of Arlington's roughly 20,000 uninsured, is funded mostly by foundations and private donors.

"Most of our patients work," says Jody Kelly, director of Clinical Administration at the Arlington Free Clinic.  "That's perhaps a myth about people at free clinics.  That they don't have jobs."

Kelly says the clinic's patients include day laborers, nannies, painters and housekeepers -- people in jobs where employers don't typically provide health coverage.

And, Kelly says, by the time patients reach her door, they are already very sick.  

"Our patients typically face the choice of buying food, paying rent or seeing a doctor, and you are probably going to take care of the other two before you come here, " she says.  "We have a lot of diabetics, people with cancer, diagnosed or undiagnosed, high blood pressure.  It's one of those things that kind of builds on itself because you are ill and you are not treated, and then you get more ill."

Extending health care coverage to more of the 50 million people in the United States without health insurance is part of President Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare reform legislation.  It's called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, widely known as "Obamacare," and it is set to take effect in 2014. But the U.S. Supreme Court will rule Thursday on the constitutionality of the law.

The legislation not only would extend coverage to more uninsured Americans but also expand the government's free health care service known as Medicaid to millions of low-income childless adults who currently don't qualify.  Parts of the law are popular, including a provision that allows adults under age 26 to stay on their parents' health insurance plans. 

Other aspects are more controversial.  At the heart of the new law is what's called an individual mandate.  It requires all U.S. citizens to purchase health insurance either through private companies, their employer or state-sponsored exchanges.  Failure to do so is subject to fines.

Supporters of the mandate say it's critical to the law's success, because it increases the number of people paying for insurance while making sure that healthy people don't opt out until they need it.  But 26 states have rejected this part of the legislation.  And they argue that, if the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional, then the entire law must go.  Critics of the mandate say Republicans and Democrats alike oppose it.

"Repubilicans are against it because they see it as an impingement on their personal freedom," says Ed Haislmaier, who works on healthcare policy at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation in Washington. "The Democrats are against it because they don't like health insurance companies in the first place, and they don't like to be told they have to go buy from someone they don't like."

Haislmaier and his colleagues at Heritage support a more consumer-driven system, where patients have a wide variety of healthcare plans to choose from, outside of what their employers offer.  In this scenario, people who have always been covered remain covered, even if they get sick.

"What has happened in this system for too long is that the patient has kind of been second or third in line behind everybody else," Haislmaier says.  

In the consumer-directed plan he envisions, there might be one health insurance company that cares for all diabetics, for example.  If you are a diabetic, that company would offer the most competitive rates and the lowest-cost medications for your condition.  Your employer wouldn't matter.  Liberals see this as a way to free employers from providing health insurance to their workers.

Meantime, each day at the Arlington Free Clinic, the waiting room fills with patients.  Most have been chosen by lottery.  

"We get about 150 people here a month who would like to become patients, and of that number, we can take only about 25," Jody Kelly says.

Wilbur Smith falls into a category that President Obama's legislation is designed to help cover: people who are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to afford health insurance on their own. Under the president's plan, Smith would be insured, even with his pre-existing cancer.  But Smith says that even if he had secured health insurance, he would have struggled to pay the premiums, which can cost many thousands of dollars each year.

He says he never thought much before about health insurance.  And people who criticized the health care system annoyed him.   

"I had always had it and I thought, 'What are they complaining about?'" he says. "You don't get hurt, you don't fall down but so many times, an accident here or there, what are they complaining about?"

Now he knows.

His cancer makes it difficult for him to talk, but he says he is grateful for the care he has been receiving.

"It's a big burden lifted," he says.  

There are a multitude of theories on how the Court will rule Thursday.  Will it uphold the legislation in full or strike it down in full? Will parts of the law survive and, if so, which parts? No matter what the court decides, a study by the Pew Research Center says the public won't be happy.  Pew researchers found that fewer than half of Americans will approve of the court's ruling.

You May Like

In China, Mixed Signals on Ebola Controls

How authorities are monitoring at-risk individuals remains unclear, including whether there are quarantines for Chinese health workers returning from West Africa More

Video Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Elections

Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Electionsi
X
October 31, 2014 4:10 AM
Public opinion polls show American voters are deeply dissatisfied with their government and anxious about threats from abroad. This is especially true for a key voting group both Republicans and Democrats are trying hard to win over: women. Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats, with majority control of the Senate at stake. VOA’s Cindy Saine looks at the crucial role women voters will play in deciding the elections.
Video

Video Women Voters Anxious Ahead of US Elections

Public opinion polls show American voters are deeply dissatisfied with their government and anxious about threats from abroad. This is especially true for a key voting group both Republicans and Democrats are trying hard to win over: women. Analysts say if women are focused on national security, it could be bad news for Democrats, with majority control of the Senate at stake. VOA’s Cindy Saine looks at the crucial role women voters will play in deciding the elections.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid