Mero Moment: Charity Care

This week I’d like to address health care, specifically the question of the uninsured.  According to official numbers, Utah has approximately 200,000 uninsured citizens, a little under 10% of our population.

Last week, a friend of mine emailed me on the subject.  Here is what he wrote,

In the next few days the Census Bureau will come out with new figures, probably showing that the number of uninsured has reached an all-time high.  This will cause gnashing of teeth, crying and wailing….possibly driving some people to drink.  It will cause apoplexy on the editorial pages of The New York Times.

So I have a solution.  And it will cost not one thin dime.  The next president of the United States should sign an Executive Order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American (even illegal aliens) as “uninsured.”  Instead, the Bureau should categorize people according to the likely source of payment should they need care.

Here’s the idea: only people who are denied care are truly uninsured.  Everyone who gets care is effectively insured by some mechanism.  So instead of producing worthless statistics that people fling around in vacuous editorials and pointless debates, the Census Bureau should produce meaningful numbers, identifying all of the sources of funds people will draw on if they need medical care.

Also, my solution would put the United States on a par, say, with Britain and Canada.  Those countries insist that all of their citizens are “insured,” whether or not they get needed medical care.

There is a truth in those words, namely that one of our great health care puzzles isn’t the “uninsured.”  The real puzzle is how we give care to those who need it but cannot reasonably afford it.  Isn’t that the real problem?  How do we provide care for people who need help but cannot reasonably afford it?  So why do we focus all of our attention on the “uninsured, as if lack of insurance is the problem?

Of course, one answer is that liberals can only think in terms of government solutions, and that means government insurance programs like Medicaid or, worse, completely socialized medicine.  Another answer is that insurance companies want us to believe that the only path to health care is through them.  The truth is that while most of us understand the mechanics of insurance – for instance, like our car insurance – there are alternatives to it.

For Utah’s indigent and needy uninsured, another answer is charity care.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting the Volunteer Care Clinic in Provo.  This is a free clinic run by an entirely volunteer staff of doctors and nurses.  The patients, mostly poor citizens and illegal aliens, are processed by a bevy of volunteers from the local LDS Church and pre-med students from Brigham YoungUniversity and Utah Valley University.  In a year, this free clinic cares for over 7,000 patients even though it’s only open two nights a week for two hours a night.  It’s a remarkable outreach from a caring community.  Most remarkable is that because its staff is 100% volunteer, it builds tremendous amounts of good will in the Provo community and its annual budget is $20,000.  Yes, you heard that right: over 7,000 patients receive the care they need and the clinic does it for $20,000 a year which is donated by generous neighbors and the health care community.

Utahns who don’t have health insurance, who need care, but who cannot afford it, can receive the care they need through charitable efforts like the Volunteer Care Clinic in Provo or the Maliheh Free Clinic in Salt Lake City which serves over 17,000 patients a year.

My question is this: what if these clinics dotted the state of Utah?  What if every community that needed a free clinic had a free clinic within a few miles of where they live?

My opinion is that a comprehensive and collaborative system of charitable free clinics is a much better answer for the “uninsured” than any government program for the indigent and needy.  Contrary to the claims of socialist do-gooders, authentic charity care builds character and community for everyone involved, and is effused with dignity for the people healed as well as for good health care volunteers who serve their neighbors in the true spirit of the Hypocratic Oath.

If Utah could take care of the medical needs of its indigent and needy residents, without involving government in any way, why wouldn’t we do it?  The answer is, we can do it and we should do it now.

For the Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.