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Doctors without borders, indeed

By Erin Kelly,


You know that things have gotten bad if a group of doctors who got together to provide health services to rural and low-income communities in developing nations has instead set up shop in the United States to help the many uninsured or underinsured people who need their care here.

Remote Area Medical (RAM) originally formed in 1985 to help people with limited access to medical care in South America and Africa, but in the 1990s, they saw that people in the United States needed their help too. RAM has set up clinics in underserved communities across the country because our health care system has let far too many people fall through the cracks.

You might be surprised to find out that most of the people who come to these clinics for medical care are from families where at least one family member has a job. But sadly, while many employers offer health insurance as a way to stay competitive and attract talented employees, they are not required to do so.

A common misconception is that if you have lost your job or are a lower-income American, you immediately qualify for Medicaid, the safety-net program that provides insurance for America’s most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. In some states, unless you fit into a very specific category, you can literally be penniless and still not be eligible for the program.

Furthermore, many don’t qualify for Medicaid because they make “too much.” Former insurance executive Wendell Potter writes about one Chicago area resident who lost her insurance when she was laid off. She has since found part-time work, but her employer doesn’t offer health coverage. She makes too much to qualify for the program, is not old enough to qualify for Medicare, and does not have quite enough to afford insurance in the private market. She, like many Americans, worries about where she can get health care every day.

For far too many years, millions of hardworking Americans have gone without access to affordable care. In fact, according to one study, 137,000 people died between 2000 and 2006 because they were uninsured.

That’s why Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the Affordable Care Act. The main goal of the law is to expand coverage to more than 40 million Americans who are currently uninsured so they finally have access to quality, stable, and affordable health care.

Over the past year, thanks to the new law, children with pre-existing conditions have been able to get coverage, small businesses have received tax credits to help afford coverage for their employees, seniors have received financial help when they fall into the prescription drug coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole,” and young adults have been able to stay on their parents’ plan once they graduate college. Provisions like these help ensure that Americans can get medical care when they need it, without going bankrupt.

As the Affordable Care Act continues to be rolled out and more Americans have access to the health care they need, organizations like RAM can turn their attention back to the developing countries they were created to help in the first place.