The reality of health care can be seen in two remarkably similar events held this weekend. In Dallas – the nation’s fifth-largest market and definitely in a red state – the event is a massive, one-day free health clinic put on by the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (NAFC) in cooperation with the Lone Star Association of Charitable Clinics and the North Texas Association of Charitable Clinics. In Los Angeles – the nation’s second-largest market and definitely in a blue state – the event is a massive, four-day free health clinic put on by an organization called Care Harbor.
Both of these clinics demonstrate the large need for health care that is going unmet by the country’s current system of health care, because millions of Americans do not have health care insurance. Neither Dallas nor Los Angeles lacks high-quality medical facilities or health care professionals, as might be the case in some rural areas. But those facilities and providers might as well be thousands of miles away for the uninsured who cannot afford their services.
The Census Bureau announced this month that nation had 48.6 million uninsured people in 2011. Texas had the highest rate of uninsured people in the country with about 26 percent of adults lacking health insurance, while California had the fifth highest rate at almost 20 percent overall. In Texas, 22 percent of children were not insured, and in California, it was 25 percent of children who lacked health insurance.
This is not a red state versus blue state, Republican versus Democrat, problem. It is an all-American problem.
The clinic in Dallas is the 12th in a series of C.A.R.E. (Communities Are Responding Everyday) Clinics the NAFC has held across the country during the past few years. Of all those clinics, the available appointments for the one in Dallas filled up more quickly than for any previous C.A.R.E. Clinic, because the need is so great.
The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics believes that Congress and the nation as a whole must consider three overarching points when considering any health care reform efforts:
1) Access to affordable health care should be a right, not a privilege.
2) In the interest of public health, all individuals should have access to affordable, high-quality health care.
3) Affordability, accessibility and portability of health care remain critical to the uninsured in this country.
No matter what happens in this year’s elections, providing adequate health care coverage for millions of Americans will remain a big issue for this country. Until the politicians can agree on what should be done and until effective reforms can be implemented, there are people in communities throughout this nation who are standing in the gap and filling the need as best they can every day. They are the men and women who provide their services at more than 1,200 free and charitable clinics across the country, as well as at other safety-net health care providers.
Surely, politicians on both sides will continue to use health care for political gains. Just as surely, those of us associated with free and charitable clinics will continue doing the work for which we wish there was less demand.
Lamoureux is executive director of the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.