In fact, this has been the case in America for decades. Free medical care is offered throughout our nation at Public Health Clinics, county hospitals, and free clinics. This is not counting the VA system of hospitals and clinics as well as some private individual medical offices that offer free care or discounted care to those who can’t afford to pay. A Google search for free medical care reveals 275 million Web sites-13,500 Web site hits for the state of Maine alone. The US Department of Health and Human Services Web site (http://ask.hrsa.gov/pc ) does a particularly good job at listing many of the free clinics via a search engine-there are 81 free clinics listed for the state of Maine.
Explore This IssueApril 2006
However, since the introduction of EMTALA in 1986, it is currently a law that no one can be turned away from an emergency room without being treated regardless of their ability to pay. The threat of government sanction of both the hospital and the physician for noncompliance exists. In other words, someone without health insurance and with no funds can arrive at an emergency room at 2 o’clock in the morning in any hospital in our nation and demand that an otolaryngologist be consulted in the treatment of their nasal obstruction. The hospital and the otolaryngologist must provide these consulting services free to the patient. If they do not treat this patient in a timely manner, the physician may be liable for a $50,000 fine (per infraction) that is not covered by any insurance policy.
As you can see, all of the uninsured population has access to health care. The vast majority of the uninsured population has access to health insurance coverage but does not take advantage of this benefit for one reason or another. Often their reasons are quite good. Consequently, it is not surprising to see less than 2,000 previously uninsured individuals sign up for Maine’s Dirigo Health among the estimated 136,000 uninsured population. While insuring the uninsured may be a noble goal, not understanding the true nature of the problem can cause more than wasted resources. It can prevent us from looking for answers to the real problems. As Mark Twain said: It isn’t what we don’t know that kills us, it’s everything we know that ain’t so.
©2006 The Triological Society