NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 7, 2009

Community-based clinics use volunteers to provide care and charge little to nothing for patients who have no other means of accessing health care.  Washington politicians should recognize the important and mostly invisible role these clinics play and examine how they save taxpayer money, says Ross Mason, president of the board of directors of Georgia Free Clinic Network.

In 2008, the nation's 1,200 charity clinics served 4 million patients who often didn't have the ability to pay and who didn't use the government as a source for their health care. These facts, among others, should prompt President Obama to give charity clinics a seat at the table to help devise a health care strategy for the 21st century, says Mason:

  • At charity clinics there is a significant focus on disease prevention and medications are dispensed to patients with directions for low-cost generics; this keeps patients from developing more serious conditions that are more costly and difficult to treat.
  • The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that 36 million Americans would still remain uninsured even if the Senate's $1.6 trillion health care proposal passed; charity clinics will wind up taking care of many of those remaining uninsured patients.
  • According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, the uninsured receive about $1,500 in free health care annually and some of that care is being dispensed at charity clinics.
  • Due to overcrowding and long waits at large hospitals, charity clinics are becoming a more viable option for non-emergency care since the majority provides patients a home for ongoing primary care.

The federal government could support charity clinics by encouraging educational partnerships with medical training facilities, offer block grants to cover administrative costs, incentives for drug companies to donate pharmaceuticals and broader medical malpractice protection for physicians and other providers who volunteer their time, says Mason.

Source: Ross Mason, "Charity clinics can be reform model," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 4, 2009.

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