Stories of Impact: Oliver's
Following the expansion of Medicaid in January 2019, some free clinics adapted to serve both Medicaid recipients as well as the uninsured.
Oliver, a long-time free clinic patient, received Medicaid benefits for low-income adults in 2017. At that time, Western Tidewater Free Clinic did not provide care to Medicaid recipients like him. As a result of his insurance status, Oliver was released from services at the free clinic and referred to an area Medicaid provider. Excited to have healthcare coverage for the first time in his life, he found his new healthcare reality not as friendly or supportive as his free clinic experience.
Individuals new to health coverage through Medicaid face barriers related to low insurance literacy (these barriers are even higher for individuals with limited English proficiency, low literacy or a disability, and those who are non-citizens or have complex family or income situations). Free clinics spend a great deal of time explaining health benefits and how to use them. For those who have not previously been insured, the healthcare system is challenging and difficult to navigate.
When Medicaid expansion in Virginia took effect last year, Western Tidewater Free Clinic, with the funding provided by Optima Health and Sentara Healthcare, was able to implement administrative, operational, and personnel requirements to become a hybrid clinic and serve Medicaid recipients in addition to continuing to serve uninsured patients. As a result they were able to re-engage past patients, like Oliver, who had been discharged due to their insurance status.
During his time away from the free clinic, Oliver was unable to find another health home that could provide the level of care and attention he had received at Western Tidewater Free Clinic. On his first visit back, he reported that he had never been so confused and disoriented as when he started with a new primary care provider. His medications were changed, he faced very long wait times, and was unable to understand most of the things that were happening as no one took the time to explain them to him.
“I am so happy to be back!” he's stated more than once to clinic staff. Not only has Oliver returned to his preferred health home, he now has a partner working side-by-side with him. Free clinics, like Western Tidewater Free Clinic, focus on treating the whole patient, providing a combination of care that addresses not only their health but also their overall wellbeing.
The expansion of Medicaid has resulted in more healthcare for more people, and the positive impact on the overall health of Virginia's citizens will be profound. Virginia's network of free and charitable clinics are proud partners and advocates in this important effort to increase access to healthcare. While clinics continue to serve as a safety net for those who continue to lack health insurance (upwards of 300,000 Virginians), some clinics have become hybrids – providing care to Medicaid-enrolled patients while continuing to serve uninsured patients within certain income levels.
Virginia's free and charitable clinics have a long history of providing high quality care and they look much like your primary care provider's office. Clinics provide primarily on-going, comprehensive care to thousands of uninsured or underinsured patients in patient-focused medical centers staffed by licensed healthcare practitioners and volunteers. In just the last year more than 65,000 vulnerable Virginians were treated regardless of their insurance status.