Gov. Nikki Haley and the state Legislature today are recognizing volunteers, staff, and supporters from South Carolina’s free medical clinics.
There are 50 sites across the state that serve working people who cannot afford health insurance–that is one in six South Carolinians.
Amanda Berrier, executive director of the SC Free Clinic Association says, “We serve only the uninsured. If you qualify for Medicare or Medicaid then you have another place to go, you are in a system. So we are catching the working poor, the folks that are out there with jobs that don’t provide insurance and who don’t have the money to pay for it.”
Two weeks ago, The BlueCross BlueShield of SC Foundation awarded a $5.35 million grant to the South Carolina Free Clinic Association. Volunteers and donations keep the clinics going – at no taxpayer cost, says Berrier.
“In a free clinic, we can see patients for much, much less than if they go to the emergency room, ” she says. “The average cost of a non-emergent patient, uninsured going to the emergency room is about $1,600 and we can take care of that same patient for a cost to us for less than $100, and of course, no cost to the patient.”
Dr. Frank Bowen runs a clinic on Hilton Head Island, which serves a population of patients who live and work on Hilton Head, Daufuskie Island and the surrounding area. Last year, his Volunteers in Medicine clinic saw about 33,000 patients.
Bowen says that includes a new kind of patient they have not seen before. He says, “We’re having real estate agents for the first time as our patients. Real estate agents are often only paid only on commission. They have no insurance. They’re not selling houses. They’re not getting commissions all of a sudden they find themselves in need of health care and they can’t get it anywhere else. That’s what we’re there for.”
More than 100 doctors, a majority of them retired, serve the Hilton Head Free Clinic.
“What motivates them? They move down to Hilton Head to retire and they say this is great, I can play golf 7 days a week, and after about 2 or 3 weeks they say there’s got to be more to life than this. Next thing we know they’re tapping on our door saying, ‘how can I help?’ ”