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Free clinic patients uninsured for variety of reasons

'They truly are the patients that fall through the cracks of the health care delivery system'

'They truly are the patients that fall through the cracks of the health care delivery system'

October 21, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

Uninsured struggle to get specialized care

Health insurance options

HAGERSTOWN -- In recent months, the Community Free Clinic of Washington County has seen an influx of uninsured patients, many of whom are without health insurance for the first time in their lives, clinic Executive Director Robin Roberson said.

"These are the 50-year-olds who have worked 25 years at the same job, and either their job has been eliminated or their employer has dropped their health insurance as a means to keep their business open," Roberson said.

They join thousands of other uninsured Washington County residents -- between 3,500 and 4,000 individual patients each year -- who rely on the Community Free Clinic for medical care ranging from routine checkups to acute care, Roberson said.

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The Community Free Clinic at 249 Mill St. offers a variety of medical clinics free of charge to Washington County residents who have no form of private or public health insurance.

Patients who receive Medicaid or are enrolled in other public medical assistance programs such as the Maryland Primary Adult Care Program are not eligible, Roberson said. The clinic requires its patients to apply for medical assistance and present a denial form as proof that they applied, she said.

Often, the patients' incomes are just over the cutoffs for medical assistance, but still too low to afford a private insurance plan or pay for doctor visits and prescriptions out of pocket, Roberson said.

"They truly are the patients that fall through the cracks of the health care delivery system," Roberson said.

The clinic's patients find themselves uninsured for a variety of reasons, Roberson said.

Some are students who recently graduated college and no longer are eligible for their parents' plans, but have not found full-time employment. Some are homeless and live in shelters. Some have recently switched jobs and are in a waiting period at their new place of employment.

"And contrary to what most people think, about 80 percent of our patient population works full time," Roberson said. Many even work two jobs.

"We see cab drivers, waitresses, construction workers -- patients who work very long hours and work very hard, but they just don't make enough money to pay the insurance premium, or it's not offered at all," she said.

The clinic is able to offer free medical care to these patients with the help of many volunteers and with funding from individual donations, local businesses and foundations, Roberson said. The clinic also is a major recipient of tip jar revenue distributed each year by the Washington County Gaming Commission.

Its services include a doctor/provider clinic, medication clinic, pediatric clinic and gynecology clinic, and, by referral, orthopedic, mental health, podiatry, diabetes and lab work services.

Funding is a continual challenge for the clinic, which does not receive state or federal funding, Roberson said.

While increased access to health insurance could lighten the free clinic's load, Roberson said she didn't think health care reform legislation would eliminate the need for the clinic.

"I discussed this with my board of directors, and we were all basically in agreement with the scenario that there will probably never be a time when every single patient in this country is insured," Roberson said.

She said organizations such as the Community Free Clinic would continue to be needed to serve people who fell in gaps or even just to help people apply for assistance.

"I think there will always be a role and a need for the Community Free Clinic in Washington County," Roberson said.

Community Free Clinic of Washington County



249 Mill St., Hagerstown

301-733-9234

www.cfcwc.com

Free services for Washington County residents who do not have health insurance or receive any type of medical assistance.

Services are offered at various times throughout the week and include nurse clinics, physician services, gynecology services, and orthopedic, podiatry, diabetes and mental health services.

Walnut Street Community Health Center



24 N. Walnut St., Hagerstown

301-745-3777 (family practice) or 301-393-3450 (dental practice)

www.walnutstreetchc.com

Accepts patients with or without insurance and offers a sliding fee scale based on family size and household income. (For example, a family of four making $22,050 or less would pay only $5 per family practice visit; $22,051 to $38,588 would pay $10 per visit; $38,589 to $44,100 would pay $15 per visit.)

Provides a variety of medical, dental, mental health and supportive services for patients from infants to seniors, by appointment.

Tri-State Community Health Center



130 W. High St., Hancock

301-678-7256

www.tristatecommunityhealthcenter.org

Accepts patients with or without insurance and offers a sliding fee scale based on family size and household income. (For example, a family of four making $22,050 or less would pay only $10 per visit; $22,051 to $33,075 would pay 20 percent of their bill; $33,076 to $44,100 would pay 40 percent of their bill.)

Also offers a Medication Assistance Program for eligible patients who do not have prescription coverage.

Services include primary care, gynecology services, immunizations, lab work and referrals.

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