Human Services

Nevada Expands Volunteer Care Opportunities; Missouri Awaits Governor’s Signature

Underinsured and unable to afford their deductible, Marty Tankersley and his family drove 200 miles to receive care at Remote Area Medical’s (RAM) temporary free health clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee. With no other options available to them, Marty and his family were able to receive quality health care at no cost from RAM’s volunteer health providers. “This has truly been a godsend,” Marty explained.

To help deliver care to many others like the Tankersley family, who either receive charity care or, often times, go without care, RAM operates hundreds of temporary clinics across the country. In the United States, over 75,000 volunteers have aided RAM’s efforts, delivering $61 million in care through over 300,000 patient contacts.

Due to the mobile nature of the organization, RAM relies heavily on volunteer health practitioners from all around the country. Unfortunately, the majority of states—save Tennessee, Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado, and Oklahoma— block out-of-state health professionals from offering free care within their borders. These prohibitive state laws diminish the potential supply of volunteer health practitioners and prevent charitable organizations, especially those reliant upon out-of-state volunteer health practitioners, from operating at full potential.

“The number of people that we have to turn away,” Stan Brock, founder of RAM, explains, “is related to the number of volunteers we have to treat the patients. If the government would allow willing volunteer practitioners to cross state lines, fewer people will be turned away.”

To that end, last week Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law a bill allowing licensed out-of-state health providers to volunteer their services. A similar bill awaits Governor Jay Nixon’s signature in Missouri. By allowing out-of-state health providers to offer treatments they are both trained and licensed to provide, RAM and other groups are able to expand access to quality care, while helping meet the growing cost of uncompensated care.

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that uncompensated care costs reached $57 billion nationwide in 2008, $42 billion of which was paid for by taxpayers through federal and state governments. Despite significant growth in Medicaid and Medicare over the years, hospital uncompensated care costs have increased from 5.1% to 5.9% of hospital costs since 1980, according to the American Hospital Association.

While many states are considering Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act as a potential solution to these challenges, a report from the Foundation for Government Accountability found that states that previously expanded Medicaid saw little reduction in uncompensated care. On the other hand, charity care through organizations like RAM offers an immediate cost-free alternative while reducing the burden on state budgets and taxpayers. ALEC’s model Out-of-State Charity Care Act serves as a blueprint for interested states.

In Depth: Human Services

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