Cover Story: Free basic medical care

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The health care crisis.  If you think it isn't real ask the masses.  The thousands of uninsured and under-insured.

But now, if only for a day, there is hope.

47 million Americans have no health insurance.  Countless others are under-insured, can't even afford to pay their deductibles.

One out of six North Carolina residents has no health insurance.  In fact, this state has the fastest growing rate of uninsured in America.

But now, many of those people in our community are being thrown a life line:  Free basic medical care.  It will happen in Charlotte next week.

When they've held these free clinics around the country some of the people that have showed up seeking medical attention haven't been to a doctor in 5-to-7 years.

At one clinic in Washington, DC nine out of 10 patients had three or more life-threatening conditions.

They line up before dawn.  Hundreds of people with hundreds of reasons to seek free medical care.

Charlea Williams lost her job.  "In the process of losing my job, I lost all my medical and dental," she said.

Josh McGrew works, but can't afford health insurance.  "I'm here to get some teeth pulled," said McGrew.

Elizabeth Valencia needs extensive dental work.  "It's just not affordable at all for me," she said.

But the price here is - free.

In Los Angeles, CA last April, a one-day free medical care clinic sponsored by Remote Area Medical.  A group begun 25 years ago to put American doctors and modern medicine in the Third World.  Now they're doing it in the U.S.

And so are other groups as well.

"The call is going out to those that are uninsured," said Jason Baisden, Executive Director of North Carolina Association of Free Clinics.

A week from Tuesday at the Charlotte Convention Center it won't be exhibits or automobiles, but physicians meeting patients - meeting patients needs.

The group National Association of Free Clinics is sponsoring a clinic for people who have no health insurance.

Patients will receive free basic medical care and health education.

The idea started with Dr. Oz who hosted a free one-day clinic in Houston, Texas more than a year ago.

It's now grown.  Charlotte will be the ninth one-day clinic the group's hosted.

It's estimated there are nearly 2-million people in North Carolina without health insurance.  Though there are 79 free clinics spread throughout the state (eight in Mecklenburg county) many aren't aware of what's out there.

Some who've shown up at the one-day clinics haven't seen a doctor in years and when they do finally get medical attention it's at the E.R.  One reason experts say America's medical costs are skyrocketing.

"If folks are waiting till it gets pretty dire and going to the emergency room it costs the whole system money.. increase amount of money," said Baisden.

At next week's event, Tuesday, December 7, they'll have physicians, dentists, nurses and other health care providers - all volunteers - doing checkups, running tests and performing minor procedures.  They're expecting between 1,000 and 2,000 uninsured people.

The goal is to get people plugged into local resources.

They have seen an increase in demand and at the same time the level of donations and giving to support the clinics has declined.

If you're interested in attending next week's clinic call 1 (877) 233-5159.  Organizers are encouraging people to make appointments.

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