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Commentary: Free clinics are not going away

This artile first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 9, 2012 - The Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act means expanded insurance coverage for Americans, but it is not a cure all. There will still be some who will remain uninsured or who will not be able to afford the options that are available to them.

We have had some time to digest the Supreme Court’s recent decision affirming the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Here at CHIPS Health and Wellness Center, a free clinic in St. Louis and a member of the National Association of Free Clinics, we have been asked if free clinics will still be needed.

The ruling means that there will be expanded insurance coverage for Americans, but it is not a cure all. There will still be some who will remain uninsured or who will not be able to afford the options that are available to them.

The recent ruling also allows for states to choose whether or not to expand Medicaid to serve more of those who have formerly been deemed ineligible.

Missouri is as yet undecided about this expansion and could decline the federal dollars to do this. Illinois, on the other hand, is moving rapidly to prepare to expand its Medicaid program.

There could still be thousands in the St. Louis area who will not have access to care, be confused about their benefits, or perhaps be unable to afford insurance coverage.

While there are many unknowns about the full impact of the ruling, CHIPS Health and Wellness Center will continue to do what we have done for more than 20 years – provide services in partnership with other safety-net providers. The sign on our door welcomes the uninsured and underserved.

CHIPS will continue to be open for primary care and some specialty services provided by a team of dedicated volunteer doctors and other health professionals supported by a small core of paid clinical and administrative staff. This committed professional health team stands ready to provide each patient the assurance that CHIPS is their health home.

We thank our Board of Directors, funders, donors, sponsors, community partners, the volunteer health core team and other volunteers, along with our devoted staff for sharing and supporting our mission.

Yes, free clinics are still needed.

Judy Bentley is president and chief executive of CHIPS Health and Wellness Center.

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