Five years later, the promises of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ring hollow for too many Pennsylvanians. The law’s numerous mandates and regulations continue to drive up the cost of health insurance, pricing needy Pennsylvanians out of the market for insurance. The Community Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM) clinic in West Chester recounts one story.
Last week, we had a 60 year old man that said his ACA premium went from $2 a month to $252 a month, explains a volunteer clinician at CVIM. Due to financial hardship he and his wife are filing bankruptcy and had to drop their ACA plan. As they work to regain their financial independence, they find comfort in knowing they can receive free healthcare at CVIM.
CVIM is one of dozens of free clinics stepping up to provide free medical and dental services to Pennsylvanians in need.
Free clinics are an essential and effective part of the safety net. The ACA attempts to serve low-income Pennsylvanians through Medicaid expansion, but that system is disjointed and difficult to navigate. On the other hand, charity clinics have the freedom and flexibility to provide coordinated high quality care in a welcoming and encouraging environment.
Chris, a patient of the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center in Pittsburgh notes,
The volunteers have always made us feel welcomed and as if we mattered. That means a lot. When you’ve been down on your luck, your self-esteem and confidence gets buried, and you feel as if you’re not worthy. The volunteers at Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center have made us feel worthy.
Free clinics are especially well equipped to serve people with chronic conditions that often prevent individuals from working and keep them trapped in the cycle of poverty.
Consider Violet’s experience. For a long time, Violet (pictured above) woke up each morning feeling dizzy, achy, and fatigued. She began to believe that her symptoms were normal for a woman of her age.
Violet explained her symptoms to her dentist. Already aware that she did not have medical insurance, her dentist suggested that Violet look into visiting Community Volunteers in Medicine. Upon visiting CVIM, the attending physician quickly learned that her blood sugar level was in the 700s, normal is 80 to 100. Violent was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with diabetes.
Violet and the CVIM staff created an individualized plan to control her diabetes. Violet says,
Betty encouraged me to attend the nutrition and diabetes education classes, which I did. I knew that I could not do this on my own, and that CVIM could give me the tools I needed. I still use the amazing recipes that Betty so kindly gave to me to this day.
With her diabetes under control, Violet returned to work fulltime and received medical insurance. Recently, Violet visited CVIM and shared that she has lost a total of 53 pounds. Violet says, “I am so blessed that I was able to come into the helping hands of CVIM.”
Violet’s success story is hardly unique for free clinics. Augustus was unemployed, uninsured, and suffering from high blood pressure when he came to the Pittsburgh Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center. During his exam, the volunteer physician also noticed a severe infection in Augustus’ mouth that was potentially life-threatening. That same day, Augustus was seen by a volunteer dentist who recommended that Augustus have all of his teeth extracted. Volunteer oral surgery residents from Allegheny General Hospital removed Augustus’ teeth successfully and eliminated the infection. But the clinic did more than restore Augustus’s health.
Once his gums healed, Augustus received a brand new smile—full-mouth dentures. Thanks to his improved health and the help of Catholic Charities’ Team HOPE staff, Augustus found a new job and health insurance.
While the debate over the fate of the ACA rages on in Washington, the demand for free clinics continues to rise. The National Association for Free and Charitable Clinics claims a 40 percent bump in patient demand since 2012. That’s a strong case for Pennsylvania lawmakers to protect this vibrant private safety net that delivers quality care to our most vulnerable residents.