People fall through the cracks in our healthcare system. When that happens, hope you live near a free or charitable clinic where, through private donations and the efforts of good Samaritans, you will receive free to very low-cost medical care and education. That clinic may very well save your life.
We are lucky enough to have such a clinic nearby -The InHealth Community Wellness Clinic in Boscobel. The clinic offers free access to medical providers as well as access to prescription medication service with a nominal co-pay of $6.
“James,” a Crawford County resident who provides full-time care for his disabled wife, was one of those who fell through the cracks of the healthcare system and social services. It has been six years since the traumatic incident that left his wife permanently disabled and forced him to leave his job to care for her.
During that time, the InHealth Community Wellness Clinic has been a vital help. During the year’s interval between his wife becoming disabled and receiving Medicaid, it was the clinic that helped provide the expensive medications she required while he struggled to pay dramatically increased insurance for her continued care.
And during those six years, the clinic has helped James, who is uninsured, manage his diabetes, a condition that can be costly to care for on its own. Without their help, he said he would likely have had to go without.
“It seems like you have to be totally destitute before you can get help (from the government),” James said. “I paid into social security and all those taxes for so many years, but when we needed them, we made just a hair over the poverty line. Those programs don’t count in the extra expenses you have like co-pays and supplies when your trying to figure out how to just get by, to just exist.
“Sometimes you are choosing between buying a medication and buying food,” he added.
InHealth Community Wellness Clinic has helped James improve his diet and helped bring his diabetes under control. Because they provide medications and supplies for a co-pay cost of only $6, he can afford to monitor his blood sugar properly and has an adequate supply of medications. Without them, staying healthy enough to care for his wife would have eventually become impossible.
James has seen many people of all ages find their way to the clinic waiting room. Some, like him, are struggling with changes in circumstances that have left them in precarious health and economic positions. Many more are young and fall into the gap between qualifying for BadgerCare and being able to afford private insurance that covers more than catastrophic care.
“There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck,” James said. “If tragedy strikes, how can they be prepared for it?”
Yet, despite the important service it provides, InHealth Community Wellness Clinic may not be able to continue serving the community without some timely assistance.
The clinic, which has served Grant and Crawford counties since 2007, serves around 3,000 patients per year and estimates at least one life is saved every month. And their patient base is growing with five new patients every hour they are open.
Yet funding has diminished sharply this last year and the future of the clinic is in serious peril.
It takes in excess of $100,000 a year to cover clinic expenses and they are roughly $70,000 short on their operating budget for the year.
Operating largely through volunteer labor, InHealth Community Wellness Clinic relies on approximately 60 doctors, nurses, vocational students and other volunteers to provide care to those in need. The clinic has only two employees who handle coordinating the program.
“Some of our contributors have mistakenly assumed that with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, our services would no longer be needed,” explained Robin Transø, the founder and past executive director of the clinic. Transø currently serves as the Secretary of the Board of InHealth Community Wellness Clinic.
In fact, even after full implementation of the ACA, according to the Congressional Budget Office, there may be as many as 29 million people, including those who are eligible for Medicaid but reside in states that opted not to expand this program, who will still be without access to health insurance.
There were initially three pools of contributors supporting the clinic, Transø explained. They had two or three large contributors, union employees and churches.
The churches are still on board, but with the changes three years ago to public sector unions, donations from union employees diminished as they began paying a much larger share of their own employment benefits.
“Many of them still give, but where they may have donated $500 in the past, now it’s only $50 or $60,” Transø said.
And the large contributors have largely disappeared due to the assumptions about the ACA’s effect on free and charitable clinic needs.
“I feel like we are dog paddling in a current these days,” Transø said. “The only consolation is that we’re not the only one in the state.”
Free and charitable clinics across the state are feeling the financial pinch. At the same time, they are seeing a distinct change in who needs their services.
“It used to be the truly destitute and now it’s the working poor,” said Kathleen Gaulke.
Gaulke is involved with the formation of the Wisconsin Free and Charitable Clinics Association, currently underway. She became involved through student service projects she was directing for the University of Phoenix. She is on the faculty of both the University of Phoenix and Upper Iowa University.
“The projects evaluated who the clinics were serving,” Gaulke said. “While Wisconsin added 18,000 adults without dependents to BadgerCare, they also removed 61,000 by decreasing eligibility.”
Many of those removed from BadgerCare are now in a position where, while insurance premiums are lower, care is still unaffordable, Gaulke noted.
The clinics generally serve populations of up to 200 percent of the poverty level, a guideline based upon the federal prescription assistance program. With the population they serve changing, the newly formed clinics association is advocating for increasing that to 300-percent, a move that would let them more effectively serve as a safety net for those who fall into the tenuous middle ground between being ineligible for BadgerCare and being unable to afford private insurance with it’s premiums, deductibles and co-pays.
The Wisconsin Free and Charitable Clinics Association hopes to be able to get backing that would create a line item in the state budget to help fund their services. While it would not supply all their funding needs, it would relieve some of the pressure they are currently feeling with donations dropping off while need remains constant.
InHealth Community Wellness Clinic is pursuing several grants, but that process is slow and there are no guarantees of approval. Most of the grants available are geared toward urban clinics, Transø noted. They also recently mailed all of their past contributors to notify them of the pending shortfall in funding.
If you are interested in making a donation to InHealth Community Wellness Clinic, you can donate online at http://ow.ly/z9kvc. To donate by mail, send checks made out to:
InHealth Community Wellness (Free) Clinic
109 East Bluff St.
Boscobel, Wis. 53805
Contributions are tax deductible as InHealth Community Wellness Clinic is a non-profit 501c3 Charitable Organization.