Health reform hasn’t negated demand for special event ‘megaclinics’

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Neon Tommy via Flickr

Photo: Neon Tommy via Flickr

In an Oct. 13 story, Susan Abram informed readers of the Los Angeles Daily News that a city sports arena was being transformed into a massive health clinic for four days. Hundreds of dentists, optometrists, nurses and other volunteers would offer free care to people in need.

This was not the first so-called “megaclinic” to come to the Los Angeles Sports Arena – and not the first time Abram had written about one. The reporter used her experience of past clinics, and insights into the nation’s evolving health care system, to bring a new and interesting angle to her story:

“…the services offered will be different compared to six years ago, when a similar event was first held at the Los Angeles Forum,” Abram wrote. “Back then, images of these megaclinics held nationwide and primarily in rural settings became symbolic of the fractured health care system before reform and the lengths many Americans would go for much needed medical and dental care. … Now, as the provisions under the Affordable Care Act take hold and more people are insured for primary care, some services at the upcoming large-scale clinic have changed while others have been expanded.”

Don Manelli, president and founder of Care Harbor, the nonprofit organization that produces the event, told Abram that while millions of city residents now have medical coverage, dental and vision services remain out of reach for many.

Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, does not cover the cost of a pair of new eyeglasses, he pointed out. And while California recently restored Medicaid dental services for adults, dental care remains hard for many to find.

As one recent study pointed out, many California safety net clinics lack dental services.

Another study found that while Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act has brought health coverage, including dental benefits to new beneficiaries, the shortage of dentists willing to serve Medicaid patients is expected to continue to contribute to problems such as excessive emergency room use.

“What stayed the same is dental and vision,” Manelli told Abram. “Dental is about 60 percent of what we do, and vision is 40 percent. We’ll see more dental patients this year than we have before and we’re doing more. We’re offering partial dentures and they will be made overnight.”

This year’s event also was expected to place strong emphasis upon preventive services. In addition, mental health services were being offered for the first time, with consultations available for people who may go on to receive care from nearby clinics. Because all patient records were being entered into a database, follow-up care is expected to be easier to provide.

“The entire clinic is on an e-record system,” Manelli told Abram. “It’s kind of amazing.”

Has health care reform changed the emphasis of a free clinic coming to your area? Does demand for some services persist, in spite of the ACA? It might be worthwhile to find out.

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