Insured, uninsured wait for treatment at free clinic

Dental patients are treated during a free health clinic at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles.

Tess Vigeland: And before we leave the topic of healthcare we wanted to note an event that's taking place here in Los Angeles this weekend. The nonprofit CareNow has been here before. They set up at a local sports arena and provide free medical care to thousands of people in a four-day period. Some of the patients this week are among the 50 million people in America who don't have health insurance.

But Marketplace's Jennifer Collins found that many who show up aren't covered for all the care they need.

Jennifer Collins: Los Angeles resident Natasha Reese has been waiting to get her teeth checked for weeks.

Natasha Reese: I bit down on something one day and the filling came out. So I've been dealing with excruciating pain, day and night. I've been popping ibuprofen like candy.

Then she found out about the free clinic that offers medical, vision and dental care.

Reese: I heard about this and I've been anticipating the day.

Reese has been without a job for a couple of years. She does have California's version of Medicaid. But that doesn't cover dental. Another patient 49-year-old Servando Medrano lost his insurance when he was laid off a year ago. Last week, he was bitten by a spider.

Servando Medrano: My leg got all swollen up and puss was coming out and I went to the emergency. That's when they charged me 500 bucks for 30 minutes.

Now he needs a follow-up. As the clinic's doors opened Thursday, patients got restless and rushed the gate. Security for the event got out the megaphones.

Security guard: I guarantee everybody on this line will be taken care of.

The nonprofit CareNow operates the clinic with hundreds of volunteers. Founder Don Manelli says for about $300,000, the clinic will serve nearly 5,000 people this weekend. He says about half will likely have some kind of medical coverage but that doesn't mean they can always get into a doctor.

Don Manelli: The local clinics are absolutely slammed on dental patients. I think it's like a five or six month wait or something. If you've got a tooth ache that's a long time to wait.

Those long waits may not get better, despite federal health care reform. Glenn Melnick is a health economist at USC.

Glenn Melnick: Even after the law comes online and people get covered, if you were to open up a free clinic, you would get thousands of people lined up in part because the waiting times to see doctors is going to grow.

CareNow volunteer: You can go sit in those bleachers over there. They'll call you by your number.

Inside the Los Angeles Sports Arena, more patients came in for triage -- for everything from bad vision to poor circulation. But the biggest need: Dental. Sixty-one year old Marcia Jones was a security guard, who's now on disability.

Marcia Jones: I'm hoping that I can get some teeth put in, back in my mouth. OK.

Collins: Wait so you said, you don't have teeth?

Jones: No, no teeth.

Clinic organizers say there's good news for her. Several Los Angeles doctor's offices are offering follow-up care, in some cases for free.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.
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I would just like to offer supportive commentary to Jessie’s experience and perspective on how employees are getting ripped off big time by both the health care insurance industry and employers. This is the source of so many of our problems (including union demands) in America. Again, it all comes down to an investor-led industry that is bleeding everyone dry, and workers are at the low end of the totem pole (consumers, as well, now, by way of government mandate, in 2014). Even when I was covered by my employer it was a hassle—for both doctor and patient—to maintain coverage and have services reimbursed. Employers who do provide coverage want to “bargain down” your nominal wage for this great service they’re offering you. “Including the 401k account we offer to our employees, the $12 an hour salary we provide is really worth some $60k a year!” If we don’t plunder it before you retire, that is. Elsewhere in this broadcast, a guest ID’d the current student loan debt load as a trillion-dollar market. Between that and health care, can there be any question that these are the next bubbles Wall Street is pumping up, and forcing people into subordinate debt slave status in the process, before they even enter the work force? I came down with tonsillitis in Australia and went to a clinic for a shot of penicillin and a couple of prescriptions—all for under a hundred bucks. No worries. I think we’re long overdue for a different model.

Like millions of hard-working, tax-paying Americans I was sucked into the great ponzi scheme called health insurance when I started working. I had no choice. I had no ‘opt out’ option. I had to choose from one lousy policy or another lousy policy.

Like millions of hard-working, tax-paying Americans I was then forced to watch as “not-for-profit” health insurance corporations and drug company executives grew wealthy beyond their dreams. If they had done anything to reduce health care costs or improve health care we might have been able to justify the theft. But they haven’t - greed, sheer greed is all they have to show for the millions they have spent of our money on advertising, lobbyists and political campaigns while racking in billions in profits for themselves. How can we be so stupid to accept this?!

Personally I have been robbed of $110,000 and that doesn’t include the interest I could have earned. Only $5,000 of my insurnace money ever went to doctors, nurses and other real health care employees to pay for my health care. I paid equally as much out of my own pocket even though I had already paid in thousands to pay for health insurance to cover my health care. How could I be so stupid to accept this?!

If I had been allowed to add my health insurance payments to my other conservative investments, such as savings bonds, I would now have nice nest egg to cover medical expenses, including parts of my body that insurance companies are allowed to exclude like eyes and teeth which is totally insane.

When I took another job my insurance company of 20 years, Health Partners, suddenly couldn’t cover me because I lived in a different state even though I had already lived in that state and they had no problem taking my money before I switched jobs. And no, my employer was not in another state, just my house. As with my previous job, I had few policies to choose from (even though I have excellent health) and ‘selected’ Humana. However their plan has gone up 175% in three years! I have used it one time, for an injury last year (a dog bite) and they only paid 10 percent of the bill. Even though they had already received thousands from me I had to pay 90 percent of the bill. Again, how can I be so stupid to accept this?!

I can’t afford to be robbed any more. I want the money I am giving to Humana every month to actually be available for health care if and when I need it. Initally I thought requiring everyone to have health care insurnace was a good idea because I was weary of picking up the tab for everyone who wasn’t making healthy choices, not buying insurnace or living off Uncle Sam and Aunt Jane when they could be supporting themselves. However, I have come to realize I was the fool. Having been robbed of so much money by insurance companies I see that taking insurance companies out of health care is the only way to save health care. Shut down the ponzi scheme - let insurance employees who want to work in the health care field receive training to actually provide health care instead of being employed to just steal money from American workers and taxpayers.

For shame, America, that our people have to gather like cattle for the occasional chance to get medical and dental care they can afford.
Single-payer system NOW.

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