On the surface, one could assume that the comprehensive nature of the Affordable Care Act will provide some level of medical care for all Americans. As such, what is the future of free clinics? Tab O’Neal reports:
A little over 66-thousand people received medical care at one of Virginia’s 57 free clinics in 2011. With a total value of over 21-million dollars, the care provided covered general, speciality, dental and eye care visits. As the affordable care act continues to phase in over the next 36-months the numbers of people seeking care are not expected to go down. Bob Barlow, Executive Director of the Free Clinic of Central Virginia:
“The Affordable Care Act has been passed to serve people 135% of the poverty level or lower. We currently serve people at 200% of the poverty level or lower... There are free clinics in the state that have raised their Federal Poverty Guideline to 250%.
Barlow says they would also raise their guidelines if the money is available for them to take on the extra patients. However, he expects there will be people within the ACA coverage guidelines who choose to exempt out:
“People are going to be able to exempt out if they can demonstrate that paying the small premiums that the Affordable Care Act will ask of them will burden them as far as putting food on their table or paying rent.”
The Affordable Care Act does not cover everything often thought of as covered by insurance. What it does not include makes up a big part of the services provided by the Free Clinic of Central Virginia.
“The Affordable Care Act has absolutely nothing in it about dental care. Of our patients last year we did over 5 thousand visits for dental care. And there is nothing in the affordable care act to provide dental care. In fact, there is nothing in Medicare or Medicaid in Virginia to provide dental care.”
Linda Wilkinson is Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Free Clinics and she echoes the point of view of Bob Barlow from the Free Clinic of Central Virginia:
“For one reason or another every single person will not be enrolled in Medicaid or one of the marketplace exchanges. So, I encourage anyone who is interested in free clinics to visit their local free clinic--and there are 57 free clinics in the Commonwealth of Virginia-- and get to know the people and the clinic and the services they provide because unfortunately they’re not going to go away because of the ACA. There will always be so many patients that will remain uninsured or underinsured in our nation.”
125 of 136 defined communities in Virginia have free clinics and Wilkinson says whether dental care or any one of the numerous other services provided by them the need is not likely going to go down. Wilkinson says they are always in need of volunteer doctors, nurses and other medical providers.