Before the Affordable Care Act became law, it was fairly common during the congressional debate to hear opponents say the legislation was simply unnecessary. After all, Republicans insisted at the time, the United States already had the "best health care system in the world."
Chances are, these GOP policymakers never stopped by a free clinic
, where thousands of struggling, uninsured Americans would routinely sleep outside, hoping for an opportunity to receive medical treatment they otherwise couldn't afford. I still remember watching Bill Moyers sit down five years ago with Wendell Potter
, a former executive at a major health insurance company, who discovered the need for systematic reform after visiting a free clinic.
Potter visited a health care expedition in Wise, Virginia, in July 2007. "I just assumed that it would be, you know, like booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that," he said. "But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they'd erected tents, to care for people.... I've got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement. And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care."
Potter added that families were there from "all over the region" because people had heard, "from word of mouth," about the possibility of being able to see a doctor without insurance. He asked himself, "What country am I in? It just didn't seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States."
That was then; this is now. This story
out of Arkansas is a sign of the times (thanks to reader R.B. for the tip).
An article in the Mena Star explains that -- despite the efforts of state Rep. Nate Bell, the Mena Republican who has made it his mission to stop outreach informing people of their options for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- citizens in Mena are getting covered under Obamacare. Announcing that 9th Street Ministries, sponsored by the First Baptist Church in Mena, will offer its last clinic later this month, Nurse Stacey Bowser, the clinical director at 9th Street Ministries, said, "We've done our mission." The clinic has offered free medical services once a month to the uninsured in Mena since 1998. For years, they were seeing hundreds of people a month desperate for care (the clinic only served people with no insurance of their own). But now folks in Mena are signing up with the private option and other coverage options via the ACA. "This complete dropoff of numbers of people coming to the clinic is a result of all those who have successfully enrolled in an insurance policy now," Bowser said.
Ordinarily, it might seem like a tragedy to see a free medical clinic close its doors forever, but this story out of Arkansas is actually the opposite -- it's evidence of historic progress that the clinic no longer feels needed.
The local newspaper's servers have been hit or miss since this story
first started getting attention yesterday -- so if you click the link and don't get through, that's why -- but the report added.
"Because people are qualifying for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, our free medical clinic will not be needed anymore," Stacey Bowser RN, 9th Street Ministries Clinic Director, stated. "We've gone from seeing around 300 people a month on a regular basis, but as people were enrolling in Obamacare, the numbers we were seeing have dropped. We were down to 80 people that came through the medical clinic in February, all the way down to three people at the medical clinic in March. Our services won't be needed anymore, and this will conclude our mission."
I don't want to overstate this. The ACA has done an enormous amount of good in a short period of time, but while the uninsured rate is dropping, it's not zero. I'm glad Arkansas' 9th Street Ministries no longer feels needed, but in the months and years to come, there will still be plenty of other free clinics and community health centers helping people facing crises.
That said, things are getting better. People are getting covered. Families are getting access to affordable medical care. I realize the right doesn't want to hear this, but when clinics like this one in Arkansas feel like their job is done, it's a reminder that the country is moving closer to where we need to be.