Free clinics help fill Florida's widening health care gap

- Winston is a regular patient of the Bridge Healthcare Clinic at the University of South Florida. 

"They have great doctors here. Real, real good doctors," he said.

USF medical students opened the clinic nine years ago.

"We are a completely student-run clinic that provides medical services mostly free of charge to uninsured patients who live within the university community who fall within a certain household income," explained clinic communications director Erin Angell.

Winston started coming here four years ago.  No job meant no insurance.

"Can't afford it. That's number one,” he said.

Clinics like these are seeing a growing number of patients for that reason. 

"We have been at capacity for a while now.  We have a wait list and the clinic is backed up for months," continued Angell.

Mount Calvary Church started a free clinic to help the uninsured.  They serve more than 900 who can't afford health care.

"Thirty-five percent of these residents in this community are uninsured," said Marcellina Abonis of the Calvary Community Clinic.

"The single leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States is health care," offered Dr. Jay Wolfson with the College of Public Health, Medicine and Pharmacy at USF.

Wolfson says the Affordable Care Act is flawed.

"The Affordable Care Act has actually pushed many people over the last three years out of the insurance market because premiums have gotten very high for those who are not subsidized by the Obamacare program.  And the deductibles have become very, very high for most of those who purchase plans on the individual market under Obamacare," Dr. Wolfson continued.

Florida not expanding Medicaid also hurts the poor. But it doesn't stop there.

"Many people who are the traditional middle class are finding that they can't afford their insurance," said Dr. Wolfson.

The Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics said there has been a steady increase of patients coming to these clinics over the last two years. 

"The state of Florida has the most free and charitable clinics in the country and it really is telling of the need over the state,” said State Representative Nick Duran, the executive director.

The clinics rely heavily on volunteers and community partnerships. And more are coming online to meet the wave of need.

"There will be more and more people throughout our community who simply can't afford to access care and they are going to look for free and affordable clinics,” Dr. Wolfson added.  “But in order for those to exist, somebody's gotta pay for them.”

For more information on these free health care clinics, click over to http://health.usf.edu/bridge/ and http://www.fafcc.org/

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