Future of Free Clinics

By Matt Porter

June 29, 2012 Updated Jul 2, 2012 at 12:02 AM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) As the Affordable Care Act allows more people to see a regular doctor, some free healthcare clinics are rethinking the way they do their work.

When Charlotte Kennedy lost her job several years ago, she depended on a free clinic for help when she got sick.

"If there wasn't a free clinic at the time, I probably would have ended up at the hospital with pneumonia or something like that," said Kennedy.

For the more than 40 million uninsured Americans across the nation, free clinics have been a way to get care when in need.

But with the new healthcare law set to provide a chance to see a regular doctor, some are asking what role free clinics will play.

Lenore Boris, an associate dean at Upstate Medical University in Binghamton, oversees the Dr. Garabed A. Fattal Community Free Clinic.

She says the new healthcare law will help insure more than 30 million people, but the current health system may have trouble handling the increased demand.

"Free clinics have really been seeing a lot of people," said Boris, "And that somehow we have to take into consideration how those patients are going to be able to continue to get healthcare."

That's why the Affordable Care Act provides $11 billion in aid to help create and bolster current community health centers.

Centers that can keep the uninsured out of the emergency room.

In 2006, the government found that one in five people who went to the emergency room were uninsured, leaving the bill for hospitals, insurers, and taxpayers.

"Free clinics have tried to address the primary care needs of their patient population so those patients don't end up having to go to the emergency room," said Boris.

And now at the Fattal Community Clinic, they help patients find if their eligible for insurance under the new law.

Other clinics are even developing systems to let patients who become insured to keep coming back.

The landscape is changing but the usefulness of free clinics is not.

Something Kennedy, now on Medicaid, is thankful for.

"When your in that situation, it's very helpful, there's no other resource," she said.

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