Free & Charitable Clinics for the Uninsured Self-Pay Patient

The focus of The Self-Pay Patient blog, as the name of the suggests, is to provide information and commentary on self-pay patients who wind up paying directly for their own care rather than rely on a third-party payer such as an insurance company, primarily the uninsured, those with high-deductible health insurance, or even some with ‘comprehensive’ insurance that find for whatever reason that they have to pay out-of-pocket for some treatments.

That said, in some cases it isn’t always feasible, or at least doesn’t seem to be feasible, to directly pay for health care because of an individual or family’s given economic circumstances or the particular medical need. For example, while there are generally plentiful options for primary care in most communities, getting help for mental health needs can be a problem for the self-pay patient. And in today’s economy, money can be scarce.

Fortunately there are options for those without insurance who can’t pay for their care either, including those who’d prefer not to rely on government programs for needed care (those exist too, of course). One option that self-pay patients might look into if they find themselves in tight financial circumstances and needing care is a free or charitable clinic operated by a nonprofit. 

I’m familiar with one such clinic in New Jersey, founded and operated by the husband-and-wife doctor team of John and Alieta Eck, Zaraphath Health Center. A June 2005 article describes the founding of Zarephath Health Center this way:

In September 1999… Hurricane Floyd roared up the East Coast and left a massive trail of destruction from North Carolina to New Jersey. The hurricane caused the Raritan River to crest, flooding adjacent buildings and giving the Ecks an opportunity to rent a flood-damaged building for $1 per year if they would renovate it for clinic use.

A team from Zarephath Community Church completely redid the small building, turning it into a modern clinic with two examining rooms, two bathrooms (including one that is handicapped-accessible and equipped with a shower in case the building is later used to provide housing for the handicapped), reception, and intake rooms.

The Ecks in 2003 began offering low-cost medical care to uninsured people who heard about them from their friends, their employers, and even some government agencies. For 10 hours a week Zarephath Health Center (ZHC), 46 miles southwest of New York City, is now open for business, operating with an overhead of $500 a month that covers utilities, phone, and one paid staffer who officially works only during the clinic’s office hours. Everyone else, including the [Ecks] and nurses, volunteers. Patient fees of $20 a visit, for those who can afford it, cover the overhead.

According to the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics, there are approximately 1,200 clinics across the country that offer free or reduced-price care. The organization’s web site includes page for finding free or charitable clinics.

While services provided from clinic to clinic vary, nearly all of them provide primary care and frequently also offer women’s and children’s health services, mental health, dental, and oral care.

There are obvious limitations to free and charitable care, including reduced hours of operation at clinics and fewer services. But most of us have found ourselves at one time or another at a point where it would be difficult to pay for even relatively minor health care needs, and it’s nice to know that there are low-cost or free options for those times.

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