Safety-net clinics want to make it clear: Even with the Affordable Care Act, there’s still a pressing need for free and low-cost care for the uninsured.
They plan to make that point Saturday with a massive one-day free clinic at Bartle Hall for health care services ranging from pregnancy tests to tooth extractions. Kansas City CARE Clinic and the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, the event’s organizers, expect at least 1,000 people to show up.
“There’s still a huge number of people uninsured in our community,” said Sheri Wood, CEO of Kansas City CARE. “They’re waiting until they’re so sick that they need an emergency room.”
A similar two-day clinic at Bartle Hall in December 2009 drew more than 2,000 people. Some patients were diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure. Others had pneumonia. At least one was rushed to an emergency room with a possible heart attack.
That 2009 Kansas City clinic was one of a series held in cities across the country to publicize the health care needs of the uninsured in the months leading up to passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010.
Since the ACA, or Obamacare, was enacted, the uninsured rate in the United States has dropped to 16 percent, the lowest level in more than a decade, according to a survey by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund. The number of people who say they’ve had problems paying their medical bills also has declined.
But the ACA is “just a first step. There’s so much work still to be done,” said Nicole Lamoureux, CEO of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.
While millions of people have been able to buy insurance with subsidized premiums through ACA exchanges, the less expensive plans often come with dauntingly high deductibles. That’s the amount a patient has to pay out of pocket for many services before the insurance plan starts paying a share. Those deductibles can be over $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a family, making it too expensive for many people to see a doctor for routine problems.
Many ACA exchange plans also have tried to hold costs down by trimming less efficient or more expensive doctors and hospitals from their provider lists. That’s meant fewer doctors for patients to choose from.
And 22 states, including Kansas and Missouri, have not chosen to expand Medicaid eligibility through the ACA to cover more people with low incomes. About 193,000 additional people would qualify for coverage if Medicaid were expanded in Missouri and 78,000 more people in Kansas, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Lamoureux said these issues help explain why 70 percent of the 1,200 clinics represented by her organization have seen their newly insured patients returning.
“They still can’t get the health care they need.”
Nationwide last year, the clinics had 6 million patient visits, about a 40 percent increase.
Even with the ACA in place, communitywide clinics, like the one to be held Saturday in Kansas City, attracted about 800 in Madison, Wis., last year and 1,000 in New Orleans the year before, Lamoureux said.
The Kansas City clinic on Saturday already has mustered about 1,200 volunteers, about half of them doctors, nurses, dentists and students in health care professions, said Wood of Kansas City CARE. She said the clinic still needs more dentists to volunteer.
“Most insurance doesn’t cover dental,” Wood said. “People are letting their dental care go. We’ll have people we’ll extract multiple teeth from.”
Wood said the clinic will provide a variety of tests for high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and other conditions. Patients will receive up to a 90-day supply of prescription medications free, as well as referrals to safety-net clinics and social services for follow-up.
The clinic will see walk-in patients, but organizers encourage people to call 800-340-1301 to schedule appointments. More than 500 have so far. Parking will be free at the Barney Allis Plaza underground garage.
Doctors will start seeing patients at 10 a.m. The clinic’s doors will close at 5 p.m. But Wood expects doctors will continue working until late into the evening.
“I would encourage everyone to come on down,” she said. “We’ll stay until we’ve seen the last patient.”
Doctors will start seeing patients at 10 a.m. Saturday at a one-day free health clinic at Bartle Hall, 301 W. 13th St.
Clinic doors will close at 5 p.m., but doctors will continue seeing patients. Walk-ins will be seen, but appointments are preferred. Call 800-340-1301 to make an appointment.
Signs will direct drivers to free parking in the underground garage at Barney Allis Plaza.
For more information, go to www.nafc2015kccare.com.