WASHINGTON — With a wounded economy and high unemployment, more than 1,000 people came to a one-day free health clinic in the nation's capital Wednesday to get the basic care they can't afford or are otherwise denied because they have no insurance.
More than three-quarters of those attending, don't have insurance because they are recently unemployed, work for small businesses, earn hourly wages, or must work multiple part-time jobs with no insurance, said the event's medical director Dr. Bobby Kapur. According to the National Association of Free Clinics, about 83 percent of the patients who go to free clinics are employed but don't have health insurance.
"They told me I had to be blind or have children to get Medicaid or anything," said Joyce Albury, 54, Upper Marlboro, MD.
After being laid off from her full-time job, Albury became an adjunct professor at a local community college, where she was not offered insurance. Before her husband lost his job too, she was denied coverage under his plan because her vertigo qualified as a preexisting condition.
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Albury hasn't had insurance for nine years. She got her first EKG and cholesterol tests Wednesday at the clinic.
"I wasn't able to sleep last night because I didn't know what they would find," Albury said.
A team of about 1,000 volunteer doctors, nurses, and everyday folks made it a priority to ease the anxiety faced by patients like Albury in addition to providing a range of other primary medical care to more than 1,000 uninsured individuals from the D.C. metro area.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Washington alone has more than 57,200 residents who are uninsured. Patients at the clinic came from Virginia and Maryland as well, and thus represent only a small fraction of those living in the area without insurance.
Patients at the clinic are examined by physicians and advanced practice nurses and then could be referred to others for specialized treatment, such as eye exams. Before they leave, patients are given further information about low cost or free care in the metro region.
Event organizer and executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics, Nicole Lamoureux, said 90 percent of the patients seen at free clinics like this one suffer from diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and some are at such a critical stage that they need emergency care.
"It's a very humbling experience to come to a convention to get what we consider basic care," Lamoureux said.
To make patients feel welcome and to relieve any anxiety or embarrassment, a team of volunteers cheered and applauded as each group of patients entered the treatment floor.
Jason Bladen, 34, of Windsor Mill, MD, explained he was anxious coming into the clinic and it made him feel better because it was the first time anyone had applauded him as he entered a room.
Bladen has not seen a doctor or had health insurance since 2006 when he was laid off, and because he is currently working part time his employer does not provide insurance.
"I guess you don't really think about it until you lose it," Bladen said about the cost of paying for insurance when it is not provided by an employer.
Bladen, Albury and the organizers of the clinic said they support the Obama administration's new healthcare plan, but admitted that it was only one step in the right direction.
"I'm upset because someone like me who doesn't have healthcare would have to wait until 2014 to get anything," Albury said. "What am I supposed to do until then?"
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