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Monday, October 1, 2012

Free Health Clinics Demonstrate Need for Increased Coverage and Enrollment

Alexandra Ernst

Staff Writer

If you have reliable health insurance, you may not think of sports arenas as typical health care venues. But for the millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans, free health clinics, such as the one held last week by Care Harbor LA at L.A. Sports Arena, are often the only option. Thousands of L.A.-area residents waited in line overnight last Monday to receive one of the 4,800 wristbands for Care Harbor’s 5th annual free health care clinic, held Thursday to Sunday. Three thousand volunteer doctors, nurses, and health workers provided free medical, dental, and vision care and preventive services, such as blood pressure checks, mammograms, and HIV testing. For many of these 4,800 patients, it was their first encounter with the health system in years—a blaring example of the current coverage crisis and the dire need for the expanded coverage under Obamacare.

Thankfully, the majority of services offered at the Care Harbor LA clinic are included in the Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) required by Obamacare—a set of 10 basic health service categories that all individual and small group insurance plans in the state exchanges must cover. In other words, the 30 million uninsured who are predicted to gain coverage by 2022 will no longer need to rely on once-a-year clinics to receive essential preventive services free of charge.

To ensure that Obamacare is implemented to its full potential, it will be important to reach out to the vulnerable populations who will benefit the most—those who will be eligible for coverage through expanded Medicaid or tax credits in the exchanges. Howard Kahn, CEO of LA Care Health Plan, understood the important role that this year’s clinic had to play in educating the uninsured about their options. The volunteer health workers at L.A. Sports Arena used the health clinic as a platform to inform patients about Obamacare and enrolled eligible, low-income patients in a free health care program that will help smooth the transition to full implementation in 2014. Many people know that Obamacare will greatly expand coverage and provide help buying coverage in the exchanges, but they don’t know how to sign up. Raising awareness and educating potential enrollees is the next step in the coverage battle. Collaborative efforts are in full swing: Physicians, health workers, hospitals, and insurers are working together through events like the Care Harbor LA clinic to reach people, and organizations, such as Enroll America, are working to ensure that all Americans know how and where to enroll in health coverage.

Take an active role and find out how you can aid in the enrollment effort and ensure that vulnerable Americans don’t have to wait for a sports arena health clinic once a year to get the care they need.