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Healthcare Is So Horrible Here that Thousands Rely on Free Clinics—And You're Fined if You Don't Use Prescription Drugs

Hey, California, is there a doctor in the house?
 
 
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Photo Credit: spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

Although Coachella Valley in Southern California has become synonymous with music festivals, Goldenvoice, the company that produces those events, also helped sponsor the first massive four-day health clinic this year. Free medical, dental and vision care was provided to nearly 2,500 uninsured patients at the Riverside County Fairgrounds.

According to the California Healthcare Foundation, this state now has the largest number of people without health insurance -- 6.9 million –- more than any state in the country. More than 20% of Californians remain uninsured. Employees in businesses of all sizes are more likely to be uninsured in California than any other state. About 60% of the uninsured population are Latino.

Pamela Congdon, president of the Remote Area Medical’s California affiliate (RAM CA) and Volunteer Coordinator, told me:

“The California Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (CALAOMS) helps sponsor RAM CA. They allow us to use their office, use our staff, including myself and our Associate Director, without any charges. I work for CALAOMS, and when I asked if they would help us bring RAM in Northern California, they agreed. Stan Brock asked me to start the affiliate -- RAM CA –- which ran the clinic in Coachella. Please say that the clinic is run by the greatest group of volunteers.”

Indeed, over 1,200 general and healthcare professionals volunteered to provide more than 10,000 individual services with more than $1,000,000 in value. Over those four days, twelve hours a day, an estimated 600 custom pairs of eyeglasses were cut, 750 medical exams administered, and 1,300 dental patients treated.

There were 615 general volunteers, 395 dental professionals, 60 vision professionals, and 190 medical professionals of all kinds. There were 1,766 dental patients, 1,435 medical, and 798 vision. One patient hadn’t seen a doctor for seventeen years. Of the 2,419 patients, 1796 were Latino. Oh, yes, and 234 stuffed animals were handed out to children.

One patient sent this message:

“My name is Jennifer and I wanted to say thank you from the deepest of my heart! I found out about RAM in Indio at 11 p.m. on Thursday. By 2:30 a.m., I had made my way across the valley, and joined in line with the rest of the people you helped. Not a SINGLE person I interacted with was anything but kind, courteous, and understanding. No one judged us for being there, no one thought we were a burden.

“I had all of my wisdom teeth pulled, something I avoided due to an overbearing phobia of dentists in general. Both my dentist and the dental assistant were comforting, and made the procedure almost painless, and fast. I am almost in tears as I write this email, due to the overwhelming gratitude I have for everyone involved in this amazing project that has changed and saved so many lives, including my own.”

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I’m writing this in the middle of the Open Enrollment time frame, during which my wife Nancy and I finally signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan. Stemming from an old police beating, I use a cane to walk from room to room, and a walker outside the house. The new healthcare plan includes free access to a gym, and I picture myself using my walker on a treadmill. That image reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon depicting a group of people on stationery bicycles in a park.

In the process of enrolling in the Medicare Advantage plan, we were told that we would have to pay a penalty because we hadn't joined a Medicare (or any other “creditable”) prescription drug coverage. We were never informed about that requirement, which began in 2006.