ARLINGTON, Va. – Every month, a hundred or so people crowd the lobby of the Arlington Free Clinic, clutching blue tickets to enter a health-care lottery. Uninsured and ailing, they hope to be among the two dozen who hit the jackpot and are given free care.
Some might think the lotterys days are numbered, given that the insurance expansion under President Barack Obamas health-care law will take effect in January. But clinic officials say the lottery will remain, because demand for services is likely to be as high as ever.
We will be business as usual, said Nancy Sanger Palleson, the clinics executive director.
The Affordable Care Act is expected to extend coverage to 25 million Americans over the next decade, according to the most recent government estimates. But that will leave a projected 31 million people without insurance by 2023. Those left out include poor people living in the 21 states, including Virginia, that have declined to expand Medicaid under the statute, commonly called Obamacare. (Indiana has not expanded Medicaid but has received federal permission for a 1-year extension of its Healthy Indiana Plan, a health insurance program for the working poor.)
The law will cut the number of the uninsured in half, said Matthew Buettgens of the Urban Institute. This is an important development, but it certainly isnt the definition of universal.
While hospitals and other providers gear up to handle an influx of Americans who will be newly insured as of Jan. 1, many of the nations 1,000 free clinics, which cater to the uninsured and are financed mostly by private donations, are redoubling efforts to help those bypassed by the law. Some of the free clinics are planning to step up their focus on undocumented workers, who wont be permitted to buy insurance from the new online marketplaces. Other clinics, seeking to fill what they see as a major gap in the law, are considering offering free dental care.
Most of our members would love to go out of business and close their doors if there was a program that ended uninsurance, said Nicole Lamoureux Busby, executive director of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. But this isnt universal health care. Were not planning to see a dramatic decrease in our patients.
Busby said clinics are facing an additional hurdle with the health law: convincing private donors that they will still play a crucial role after millions gain coverage.
So many listen to the news and hear a 24-second sound bite that says everyone is getting coverage, she said. The donors may think we dont need their funds.