A helping hand for the poorest of the poor

Below is a commentary by Freedom Foundation of Minnesota CEO Annette Meeks which appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on November 18, 2016


A helping hand for the poorest of the poor

But you won't see something like a RAM medical clinic in Minnesota, where, of course, there are laws and regulations that forbid it.


Thanksgiving came early for me this year and in a most unexpected way. My day of giving thanks for a multitude of blessings occurred on a mid-November weekend in Bradenton, Fla., where I volunteered beside several hundred others at the Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic.

RAM was founded in 1985 by Stan Brock, who remains president of this one-of-a-kind, nonprofit medical organization. RAM’s mission is straightforward: they seek “to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality health care to those in need.”

They do this by hosting free medical clinics that include dental, vision and medical care for those in need around the world.

In Bradenton, RAM was able, in 12 hours, to convert the Manatee Technical College campus into a free medical clinic that served nearly 2,000 Floridians. Services included dental extractions, fillings and cleanings, eye exams and glasses, along with routine medical exams that can be life-saving for those with untreated conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Every physician, ophthalmologist, optometrist, registered nurse and dentist at the three-day clinic was a volunteer, as were hundreds of others like me who donated their weekend to help folks in dire need of health care.

These is no cost for any of these medical services, and patients whose care needs exceed what can be provided at the mobile clinic are given referrals to public health agencies and local social-service organizations that provide them with longer term care options. Many of these agencies had a presence at the clinic.

A visit to a RAM clinic is often made in lieu of a very expensive trip to a local hospital emergency room, thus saving taxpayers the enormous costs associated with unreimbursed care.

Services at a RAM clinic are provided on a first-come, first-served basis to all who wait in line overnight to get one of the coveted appointments. Potential patients are given a number beginning at 3 a.m. and they were lined up at the front door, ready to go at 6 a.m. when the clinic opened. Those who arrived too late to be seen by a doctor on the first clinic day often returned on subsequent days, hoping for better luck in obtaining an appointment.

While many of us involved in public policy continue to argue over the myriad problems associated with the Affordable Care Act, one weekend volunteering at a RAM clinic exposes you to an entirely different world of needs, almost all of which are overlooked by Obamacare regulations. Indeed, the need for basic medical services at a RAM clinic exposes another absurdity of the law: that even with massive government subsidies for low-income citizens, Obamacare doesn’t make health care “affordable” for the poorest members of our society.

As a result, some of our neighbors quietly go without care. They go without having a cavity filled or an abscessed tooth pulled. Many RAM participants asked where they could find an affordable physical exam that would allow them to complete an application for full-time employment. And 400 patients who waited at the RAM clinic came in search of an eye exam, which often resulted in a new pair of prescription eyeglasses. New glasses would allow some of them to drive commercial vehicles and read better — key components of many jobs.

Yet RAM won’t be coming to Minnesota anytime soon. I’m told the reasons are ... complicated.

Apparently, Minnesota has on the books laws and regulations that prohibit licensed medical doctors practicing medicine in other states from doing the same here without a valid Minnesota medical license. Even for charity work. Even for one weekend a year.

While RAM can’t provide medical care today in Minnesota, legislation could change all of that and put Minnesota on par with other states that recognize the need for free emergency medical care for the poorest of the poor.

And when we do, I’ll remember Frank, a Vietnam war veteran I met in Florida. Frank was getting a much-needed series of medical exams at RAM, including a coveted dental appointment. Upon leaving my registration table, he thanked me and said that this was the great blessing he will receive this Thanksgiving.

Me, too, Frank.

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