Free Clinics Save Money

Without getting too political or preachy, I believe a major issue with our current health care system is that it’s really a disease care system. Only about three percent of the dollars spent on health care in this country goes towards preventative care, while 75 percent of our health care costs are related to preventable conditions (citation). No matter where you stand on nationalized health care or the package being implemented by Congress, I hope most of us can agree that preventative spending is a good thing.

And if we can’t, here’s some more evidence to support it. Recent research has shown that people with access to free medical clinics go to the emergency room with less frequency and for actual emergencies on a more consistent basis. This is important because using the ER for non-emergency reasons is an incredibly inefficient use of resources.

In the study, researchers tallied 52,010 individual uninsured patients that visited ERs a total of 99,576 times over the course of three years. Of those, about 10 percent were by people who had previously visited a free clinic. By comparing the stated reasons for the visits as well as the eventual diagnosis, the researchers showed the people who had previously visited a free clinic were less likely to require the lowest levels of care.

And that’s important because about half of all the visits were unnecessary, according to the hospitals’ own standards.

All in all, this gives credit to the need for basic health care coverage to be available to all. Paying for insurance premiums is less costly than paying for nearly 50,000 unnecessary ER visits by uninsured individuals – and that’s only the tally from five hospitals in Virginia.

I’m not saying that everything in the Affordable Health Care Act is super and wonderful, but I am saying that everyone should be able to get behind providing free preventative health care and free basic clinics for all. It’s in our own best interests.

The paper, “Do free clinics reduce unnecessary emergency department visits?” was published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved by Penn State associate professor of public health sciences Wenke Hwang; Kimberly Liao, research associate, public health sciences, Penn State College of Medicine; Leah Griffin, statistician, biostatistical sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine; and Kristie Long Foley, associate professor, medical humanities, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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