Pop-Up Clinics Strive to Close Healthcare Gap

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Setting aside the debate about the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act itself, one thing the ACA has done is increase the access to healthcare across the United States. Yet, many groups, like illegal immigrants and the working poor, still go without sufficient coverage.

Illegal immigrants, by nature of their status, are excluded from the ACA. Meanwhile, the working poor are unable to afford even the lowest-cost coverage in many cases because nearly 30% of states have opted out of Medicaid expansion under the law, which these individuals could have otherwise taken advantage of. Meanwhile, others who are able to purchase the least-expensive insurance through the ACA find themselves saddled with high deductibles, forcing them to pay out-of-pocket for routine services like doctors visits that they cannot afford.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates than in 2014 some "32 million nonelderly Americans were still uninsured."

Lessening this gap between the insured and uninsured are "remote pop up health care clinics" or "pop up clinics," for short. This innovative approach to expand healthcare access is frequently held as a "expo" that one might experience at a busy conference. These mostly-donor-funded clinics are transient -- only lasting for a day or two -- and usually are held in large convention centers. But rather than pushing products, these expos offer a range of medical services, everything from dental cleanings to vision tests to dietary counseling.

The goal is to provide the highest volume of patients with necessary care in the shortest time possible. All services are free, mainly because everyone involved -- from the medical practitioners to the administrative staff -- works voluntarily. Prospective patients pop-up goers have been known to sleep outside in their cars the night before an event to help ensure that they will be seen.

The largest and longest-running of the pop-up clinics is Remote Area Medical, which has been in business domestically and abroad for 30 years. The organization runs on roughly $2 million annually and holds up to 40 clinics per year. And according to its website, RAM events have provided over $95 million worth of medical care to those in need.

Another organization, Medworks, was formed in 2009 by a group of Cleveland residents. Medworks hosts just roughly 10 clinics annually, and the organization has treated nearly 4,000 patients since its inception.

Professional participation through volunteering is the life blood of these clinics.

We ve never turned away a volunteer," said Nicole Lamoureux, CEO for the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, based in Alexandria, VA. "If they wanted to be there and they wanted to help, and they could, we found a job for them. Not only that, but her group checks the license of every health-care professional and buys them malpractice insurance for each event.

Since 2009, NAFCC has staged 15 clinics, treating 17,500 patients.

Social and economic inequality remain factors that disrupt the smooth implementation of ACA. But these pop-up clinics provide service for many where standardized healthcare is unavailable or unaffordable.