Nonprofit Newswire | Impact of Health Reform on Free Clinics

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March 26, 2010; The Laurinburg Exchange | As the entire nation tries to interpret exactly what Congress passed and President Obama signed as the health care reform legislation, we find it interesting that in the past few days, there have been several articles about  “hundreds” waiting in line for free health clinic examinations in Roanoke, Virginia, Atlanta, Georgia, and Belmar, New Jersey. Both the Belmar and Roanoke clinics were heavily focused on dental care.

Will health insurance reform mean that recent free clinics in these places—plus Houston, New Orleans, and Little Rock—no longer be necessary?  The executive director of the Scotland Community Health Clinic in Laurinburg, North Carolina appears to think that the need for free clinics won’t disappear with the President’s signature on health insurance legislation: “The early talk is that there will still be a long term need for free clinics (because) . . . (e)ven with vouchers, not everyone will be able to purchase medicines, and some will not qualify for Medicaid. I don’t see the need for free clinics going away just yet.”

Many of these clinics are associated with the National Association of Free Clinics, which apparently represents 1,200 free clinics in the U.S.  Because health insurance reform will be phased in over a number of years, these nonprofit or volunteer-organized free clinics will have a continuing function for a long time to come.

Given the provisions in the legislation that exclude undocumented immigrants and, in some cases, even “legal” low-income immigrants (compelled to endure a waiting period until they can be eligible for Medicaid), there will be millions of residents of the U.S. who will be without health insurance.

Although we haven’t honed in on that specific part of the 2,390-page bill, we also suspect that dental care won’t be quite as well taken care of in the legislation. Apparently, there is expanded dental coverage for children under Medicaid, but it isn’t clear to us that dental insurance coverage for adults is fixed, and the American Dental Association was on record, at least until recently, as opposing the Senate bill.

Don’t get carried away yet, health insurance reform is hardly a comprehensive fix to our nation’s health care as well as health insurance needs.—Rick Cohen