Free clinics fill gaps of Affordable Care Act

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – It’s been nearly a week since the health exchange opened under the Affordable Care Act, but that doesn’t mean the need for free health clinics simply diminish.

Free clinics have been around since the 1960s and through those years, the clinics have had to adapt and change to the needs of the country much like the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic.

Although there’s the presumption that the ACA would provide coverage to millions who have no insurance, the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic is still working to fill the gaps that will likely remain, even with Obamacare.

“We know there will be some changes in the free clinic but we'll not be going away,” said executive director of CVFC Maribeth Woodford.

The CVFC serves around 800 people who are uninsured each year. Woodford said one of the goals is to keep people with basic health care needs out of emergency rooms and hospitals.

She said the Affordable Care Act isn’t affordable for everyone and not everyone qualifies for Medicaid.

“We still think there are going to be people stuck in the cracks,” said Woodford. “So there will still be things like dental care, mental health, those that fall through the cracks of both the Medicaid program that we have and the subsidies in the federal health care act.”

The Chippewa Valley Free Clinic is a Certified Application Counselor organization and will soon have three counselors available to help patients apply for health care on the exchange.

Dr. Ken Adler, the founder of CVFC, is training to be a certified application counselor. He’s already been through more than 20 hours of reading and training and will go through federal testing soon. After that, Adler will be able to help individuals and families at the free clinic apply for insurance in the marketplace.

“If our patients aren't able to afford the Affordable Care Act insurance or they're not eligible for Medicaid and things aren’t working out for them, the free clinic will still be open. We're planning on being here until the need for our service no longer exists,” said Adler.

There are also those who aren't eligible for government programs, like undocumented citizens. Woodford said medication costs can still be extremely high for patients with complex needs.

But still, health care workers say the ACA will likely help many uninsured patients.

“The vast, vast majority of our patients make less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level and that’s important because the affordable care act will give assistance to people with up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level,” said Adler.

Adler said his hope is that every patient that comes to the free clinic would at least try getting into the federal marketplace because a large percentage of patients will be eligible for care outside of the free clinic.

“Some will find that they will get a federal exemption so they will not need to get the insurance. If you choose not receive the insurance, in general, you'd have to pay a fine to the federal government come income tax time so that would be motivator for you to think long and hard before you decide,” said Adler.

Woodford said free clinics like CVFC serve the purpose of meeting unmet needs of the community and will continue to operate business as usual as people approach the clinic for questions on applying for insurance or continue to receive care through the free clinic.

“It would be nice if we could legislate away poverty and it'd be nice if free clinics went away but as long as there's a need, we are the safety net clinic in the community,” said Woodford.

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