FREDERICK, MARYLAND— Now that more than seven million Americans have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, the number of uninsured in the United States has dropped. But there are still millions of low income people who don’t qualify for help, or can’t afford even the subsided health care coverage offered - or are just overwhelmed by this new complex system.
There has been no drop off of patients who come to the Mission of Mercy mobile clinic when it comes to the city of Frederick, Maryland, near Washington, DC. Mission of Mercy is a volunteer medical service provider funded by private donations. The group travels throughout the region and treats anyone in need.
Dr. Michael Sullivan says they serve the poor that Obamacare is not reaching.
“For areas that do not have entities, some organizations that are doing what we’re doing, trying to pick up all of these people that are falling through numerous cracks. I don’t know what they do other than end up in an emergency room for, you know, a quick fix," said Sullivan.
The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to make health care coverage less expensive and more accesible. For the poor, it provides either free government coverage under a program called Medicaid or income-based subsides to purchase private health insurance.
But for many of the patients that Mission of Mercy sees, insurance through the Affordable Care Act is just not affordable. Stevatte Bryant lost her job and insurance, but since her husband receives government disability benefits she does not qualify for Medicaid. The cheapest insurance she could get would cost $300 a month, which she cannot afford.
“I’ve had insurance all my life. I’ve worked good jobs. I’ve just had some not so good luck here recently. And you know I have to humble myself to come here, and it’s because I don’t have money," said Bryant.
Dr. Sullivan says even with insurance, a hospital emergency room visit to treat Bryant’s back pain would likely cost close to $1,000.
“They get an X-ray that they probably don’t need. And they probably get told we don’t inject things in the ER. Go see this orthopedic doctor. But then when they go to try to see the orthopedic doctor, they can’t get in unless they pay some cash up front," he said.
Other patients here are undocumented immigrants who don’t qualify for any government help. Bianca Aleman from El Salvador is a legal resident but she missed the sign-up deadline for Obamacare because she says the process seemed too intimidating.
“Because I didn’t have too much information. So that’s why I didn’t apply. But now I came here. They give me more information about [it]. So I’m going to try to apply for [it] next year," said Aleman.
Mission of Mercy officials say they are expanding services to treat the millions of people who still cannot afford the high cost of health care in America.