Free Clinics Provide Care for Those without Health Insurance
For millions of Americans, their health care comes from the nonprofit sector that includes free clinics and community clinics and health centers. Most of the people who utilize these services do not have health insurance, and the clinics are their only hope for getting any type of health care at all for themselves and their families.
Two types of nonprofit health care facilities are available in the United States. One is the free or charity clinic, and the vast majority of people who frequent these facilities do not have health insurance. Free clinics charge little or nothing for their services and are typically staffed by volunteers. The other type is a community clinic or community health center, and their clients may or may not have health insurance. People who are not insured are asked to pay what they can afford.
Both types of nonprofit facilities need to solicit funds from the public to stay in operation. About 50 percent of nonprofit clinics are faith-based, but the people who come to them can be of any faith or none at all. For many people, especially those with children and no health insurance, these clinics are a life saver.
In his book entitled “Grass Roots Medicine: The Story of America’s Free Health Clinics,” author and sociologist Gregory Weiss traced the beginning of the free clinic movement to the 1960s and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury area, where the flower children found themselves needing health care related to their experimentation with drugs and sex. Typically these individuals did not have health insurance to cover the costs, and the free clinics arose from their need and continue today.
In his book, Weiss, who himself volunteered at a free clinic when he first arrived at Roanoke College where he is now a professor of sociology, notes that he was impressed by the quality of care that he saw in the more than 40 clinics he investigated, saying that it was “beyond standard care.” Many of the health care professionals who staff the free clinics and community health centers are very well trained individuals who are willing to work for much less to provide much needed services for children and adults without health insurance or any other means to get health care.
Weiss estimates that less than 10 percent of the people without health insurance in the United States use the services of free clinics and community health centers. Not all of the clients are without health insurance. A growing number of visitors are the working poor and people who have inadequate health insurance coverage and who turn to the free clinics to fill the gap.
In a statement on the Roanoke College website, Weiss notes that even though free clinics and community health centers have “functioned without being in the spotlight,” they will likely continue to play a role in communities across the country, serving those who have slipped through the cracks and who are in need of care after the current health insurance reform debate is settled. For people who want to find a free clinic in their area, the National Association of Free Clinics has a list on their website.
National Association of Free Clinic
Roanoke College website
VOA News, September 21, 2009
Written by Deborah Mitchell
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