What does it look like when health care is not accessible?

Health care, and the lack of access to it, has been a prominent topic in the media recently. On Sunday, June 23, The Washington Post profiled a couple in rural Tennessee who, struggling with myriad health conditions, sought assistance at a weekend pop-up clinic staffed by a volunteer medical team. (See “Urgent needs from head to toe: This clinic had two days to fix a lifetime of needs“.)  Another article a few days earlier, “As price of insulin soars, Americans caravan to Canada for lifesaving medicine”, also in The Washington Post, focused on families traveling to Canada to purchase insulin, because it is much less expensive than in the US and available without a prescription.

These articles spoke to all of us at Mercy Health Clinic, as there are many truths in these stories that relate to experience of patients at Mercy. All of our patients are low-income and like the couple featured in the article, most have not had regular access to medical care because they lack insurance and cannot afford care.

Thanks to generous donors, Mercy will serve more than 2,000 patients this year, providing primary care and specialty care for patients who otherwise would have to use the services of the hospital emergency room, which is very expensive and cannot offer the ongoing support to manage chronic conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, that Mercy is able to provide.  

Approximately one third of Mercy’s patients are managing a chronic condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. If not properly managed, these individuals are at significant risk of hospitalization, re-hospitalization, heart attack, stroke and serious infection that could require amputation of limbs.

At Mercy, medications, including insulin, are provided free of charge to patients to patients so they do not have to choose between buying medicine or groceries, or reduce doses/skip days to stretch their medications until they can afford to refill them.

We are serving the poorest of the poor, including the “working poor” who have jobs but still cannot afford care. More than 70% of our patients live at or below the Federal poverty level, individuals who are caregivers or work in fields that are low-wage and often do not offer health insurance, such as childcare, housekeeping, construction labor and other service positions. Even though they are employed, and work full-time, they still do not have access to health insurance and cannot afford health care. The Affordable Care Act expanded access to care in many states, including Maryland, but there are still some 60,000 adults in Montgomery County who do not qualify for any insurance program. Often, those who do qualify for subsidized “affordable” plans find that they cannot keep up with premiums throughout the year and then return to the ranks of the uninsured. In addition, we are now facing uncertainty regarding local and national healthcare policy and the impact it may have on people struggling with poverty.

Mercy is committed to providing care for our low-income neighbors, and we are continually evaluating how best to meet their evolving needs.