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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs