News / USA

Free Health 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

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs