October 20, 2011; Source: Associated Press | The other day, someone mentioned a new prescription drug that doctors prescribe to help people grow their eyelashes longer. Apparently, one of the less-than-savory side effects, besides the problem of some darkening of the eyelids, is that the eyelashes might just keep growing uncontrollably and require regular trimming, like Brezhnev’s eyebrows. It’s true. Who the heck would take their medical and pharmaceutical knowledge, with all the health troubles in the world, and dedicate that clearly remarkable talent to the challenge of lengthening eyelashes? You have to really wonder sometimes.

But then you see reports such as this one about CareNowLA, which is running a free health clinic providing dental, vision, and medical care for an expected 5,000 poor and uninsured people in the Los Angeles area from Thursday, October 20 through Sunday, October 23. Eight hundred medical professionals have signed up to volunteer at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Among the volunteer doctors at the Arena will be Dr. Mehmet Oz of his eponymous television show. Even as the program is getting underway, CareNowLA is looking for more volunteers and for donations, both cash and in-kind donations or loans of medical equipment.

This isn’t the first time CareNowLA has run a free clinic for Angelenos. Last year, the nonprofit had two Los Angeles area clinics, one co-sponsored with the First Lady of California at the time, Maria Shriver. Together, the two clinics served 15,330 patients and provided $7.1 million worth of health care. Organizers say that 60 percent of the people who come will be there for dental care. One of the volunteer doctors noted that many people in the line for treatment probably haven’t seen a doctor in years, not just because of the lack of insurance, but because of their jobs, where they simply don’t have the “luxury” of taking a day for medical visits.

Do you think that there’s no health care coverage crisis in the U.S.? In Los Angeles, people started lining up a day before the event to receive wristbands guaranteeing them a sequential place in line to receive services. Consider that the total value of the health care delivered at last year’s clinics came to a paltry $7.1 million, an amount that major medical facilities and pharmaceutical companies see pass through their ledgers in a flash. Remember that even if the Affordable Care Act (national health insurance reform) is fully implemented (and it doesn’t really begin until 2014), many people in the U.S. will still lack health care access and coverage, especially some classes of immigrants (including undocumented immigrants) who were excluded from the law. Put in your own explanation for that one.

We have tremendous admiration for the nonprofits like CareNowLA that somehow pull off these free clinics offering an amazingly full plate of primary medical and dental care to any and all comers who are poor or uninsured. A few minutes worth of the resources that supported the research to create eyelash lengthening medications would support many more clinics like this. But we have equal admiration for the anonymous medical professionals, not just the name value celebrity ones like Dr. Oz, who are going to work at the Los Angeles Arena for the four-day clinic. They are truly heroes and heroines of the nonprofit sector.—Rick Cohen