Since Friday and extending through Monday, the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Volunteer Corps has been providing free medical, dental, and vision services to thousands of Californians here in Sacramento. (Here’s Peter Hecht’s story in the Sacramento Bee.) The group, which started providing these clinics in isolated areas in the Amazon, has been meeting the significant demands here California (this weekend in Sacramento, next weekend in Oakland), and spotlighting the significant health crisis here.
It’s a sad but telling situation that a volunteer health clinic developed to serve isolated and impoverished areas in Third World nations finds so much demand in the Capitol of the largest state of the richest country. And that people need to camp out at CalExpo and wait in long lines to get needed care. Yet Californians are more likely to be uninsured, and more likely to either not afford coverage or be denied for pre-existing conditions, than residents of other industrialized countries or most other states. The uninsured–even if they take advantage of clinics like this–end up living sicker, dying younger, and being one emergency away from financial ruin.
The awful cuts already made because of our budget crisis make California’s situation worse. It’s not a surprise that a big demand has been vision and dental services–which were eliminated out of Medi-Cal coverage two years for millions of Californians. And just last month, the state placed caps on doctor visits, and steep financial barriers for even going to an emergency room. This clinic will help hundreds if not thousands this weekend, but the budget cuts are impacting hundreds of thousands if not millions, throughout the year. California desperately needs to prevent the expiration of revenues on June 30th–a budget bomb would force billions of dollars of even more harsh cuts.
In such tough times, these clinics provide some hope, and does the further implementation of the new federal health law. One weekend of free clinics does not solve a health crisis, but good policies can. California should seize every opportunity and every federal dollar made available by the new health law not just to provide better coverage and care, but to revitalize our health system and economy. Band-aid solutions like these clinics may be less necessary if California aggressive implements and improves upon the new federal law.