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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment 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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs