The new director of the Hilton Head Island Volunteers in Medicine Clinic is probably right that changing health care rules under the Affordable Care Act won't negate the need for free, volunteer-provided health care in the years ahead.
Many people could fall through the cracks of our complicated health care system, particularly if clinic director Dr. Raymond Cox is also right that there won't be enough doctors and other health care providers to take care of the newly insured. And with South Carolina choosing not to expand Medicaid coverage under the new law, some could find they qualify neither for Medicaid nor for participating in the federal health insurance exchanges.
Lisa Drakeman, chairwoman of the clinic's board of directors, said about two-thirds of the clinic's patients would have received coverage under the expansion.
"There are people who will still need our care," Drakeman said. "And even after they receive subsidies to buy insurance, they would still have a pretty substantial payment for their insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs they'd be responsible for."
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Making sure people have access to health care no matter their financial circumstances is the goal of the island clinic and the 94 similar clinics that have opened across the country since Dr. Jack McConnell's brainchild got off the ground on Hilton Head in 1993. That includes the Bluffton-Jasper County Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, which serves residents of mainland southern Beaufort County and Jasper County and opened in Bluffton in 2011.
Volunteers in Medicine on Hilton Head started modestly with immunizations 20 years ago, moving into the stand-alone clinic a year later. The clinic provides medical, dental and mental health services to people who live or work on Hilton Head or Daufuskie islands and who cannot afford care on their own.
In 1995, the first full year of the clinic, 6,000 patients were served. Today, the clinic has more than 33,000 patient visits a year, helped by more than 700 doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers and lay volunteers. Its 2012 tax filing shows a $2 million a year operation, with a $5.4 million endowment. That healthy endowment bodes well for the clinic's future.
Smart, energetic, dedicated people make the Volunteers in Medicine idea work here and across the country. We're confident that no matter what happens in health care in the years ahead, Volunteers in Medicine can be there to make sure no one goes uncared for if we all pitch in.