A rising need – free clinics provide health care to uninsured and underinsured

(Des Moines, IA) – Increasingly, medical services are provided by free clinics for many in both rural and urban areas of Iowa who don’t have access to affordable health care.


    According to a 2004 review of the free clinics system of Iowa, written by Des Moines University and the Iowa Department of Public Health, approximately 64 percent of Iowa counties are served by free clinics and many patients travel from different counties to seek medical care at one of the 26 free clinics in Iowa, 12 of which are a part of the Free Clinics of Iowa network.


    “Free clinics were originally designed in a very fragmented way, growing wherever the need presented itself through the efforts of community health care providers and stakeholders,” said Wendy Gray, M.S., executive director of the Free Clinics of Iowa (FCI). “Although free clinics have not traditionally been designed to be medical homes, there is no question that they are utilized as regular sources of primary care. With ever increasing numbers of uninsured and underinsured, free clinics have become a legitimate and essential piece of the health care safety net, offering care to those who may otherwise go without.”


    According to Gray, FCI alone served over 10,000 patients in 2003 with the help of over 800 volunteers. On a larger scope, the 26 free clinics in Iowa, which include both FCI and other independent free clinics, provided care to over 33,000 patients in 2003. FCI, administratively based at Des Moines University, hopes to collaborate with more independent free clinics in the state and help new clinics to get started and meet community needs.


    According to Gray, approximately ten percent of Iowa adults, ages 19 – 64, were uninsured in 2003. In addition, there were approximately 46,000 Iowa children uninsured. Of those served, the majority was female and approximately 43 percent were Caucasian and 41 percent were Hispanic. In Iowa, approximately 70 percent of uninsured parents are ineligible for Medicaid or other public health coverage because their incomes are too high.     

    Free clinics are private, nonprofit, community- or faith-based organizations that provide medical services with no fee. With the help and dedication of volunteers, such as doctors, nurses, receptionists and translators, these clinics are able to provide primary care services to those who are eligible. In addition, pharmaceutical and medical supplies are donated and individual, private and public donations and collaborative relationships within communities keep the clinics running. The operating hours and days of free clinics vary, but most are open once a week for approximately two hours in the evening or on the weekend and are often operated out of churches and community centers.


    For more information on FCI, visit their web site at www.freeclinicsofiowa.org or call (515) 271-1642 for a listing of clinic locations, addresses, phone numbers and hours of operation.

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