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Charity cases: Medical services and equipment at rock bottom prices

by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer | December 19, 2011
From the December 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


“I’m not proud of anything,” said Carter. “I just saw the needs of disabled and deformed people overseas that had no care at all and I wanted to help.”

Charity begins at home
In September, the Census Bureau reported that 49.9 million Americans lack health insurance. More organizations are addressing this issue.

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“While many show a strong inclination to provide charitable care, more attention needs to be devoted to how we can enable this provision of care in a way that is safe all around – safe for the patient, the provider and the system,” Casey said.

Dr. George Ellis, a physician with Orlando Health Urology in Florida, won the ACS domestic volunteerism award in 2005 for his work as founding chairman of the Primary Care Access Network -- a consortium of local government agencies, community health centers, hospitals, and several nonprofits and faith-based human service agencies in Orange County, Florida.

At PCAN’s 1999 inception, 175,000 people in Orange County were without health insurance. Through PCAN, Ellis established a solid framework for providing access to medical care services for uninsured patients locally.

“Fast forward a few years, we have seen over 100,000 patients use PCAN,” said Ellis. “In the first two years, we realized there were fewer self-paid emergency room visits at hospitals, which meant the PCAN clinics we created were serving their purpose.”

Unfortunately, the number of patients with no insurance has grown because fewer employers are offering insurance coverage, Ellis noted.

According to Casey, volunteering medical care in the United States comes down to three overarching themes: logistics, liability and licensing.

“Even if one individual says they’ll waive fees for a patient — which happens frequently — the patient may still encounter barriers through an O.R. charge, or radiology or lab charges,” she said.

Despite existing Good Samaritan laws and various provisions for charitable care across America, each state is different; so individual providers may feel differently about their ability or protection from a liability standpoint, Casey added. Ongoing efforts to coordinate care on both an individual and a systems level are needed.

“Many doctors are now afraid that if they volunteer their time, they will then get sued,” said Ellis. “Liability reform might promote more volunteerism; and some of our economic woes might get resolved with more volunteerism.”

But even with these risks, free clinics are popping up across the nation. In L.A. County, where nearly 2 million are uninsured, CareNowUSA -- a nonprofit charity -- hosted a free medical, vision and dental clinic for 4,000 patients, with nearly 850 health care providers volunteering their services at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in October.

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