For over 100 years, the United States has tried to find a politically acceptable way of providing access to health care to everyone. Early efforts included providing access through shared risk through private insurance, which helped some people. During World War II, employers began to offer private health insurance as a fringe benefit for their employees, showing the nation how valuable access to care was for the health of workers and their families.
On Nov. 19, 1945, President Harry S. Truman proposed a national system for public health insurance. This legislation failed because of resistance from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Medical Association, and the American Hospital Association, claiming it would be socialism. In 1965, legislation was passed to create Medicare (health insurance for those over 65) and Medicaid (health insurance for those with low incomes). In 1997, the Children’s Health Insurance Program was signed into legislation, providing health coverage to children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but who can’t afford private health insurance. Despite state and federal insurance programs, as well as employer-sponsored insurance plans, by 2008, over 46 million people still had no health insurance with over 60% of bankruptcies linked to medical bills. In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare,” passed, and today, over 31 million Americans have health insurance as a result. While this is to be celebrated, there are still 28 million people who have no health insurance in our country.
This is why places like Oasis Free Clinics play a critical role in providing care for people who are not eligible for public insurance programs or do not have the resources to pay for private insurance. Oasis is not an emergency room, providing episodic care to people experiencing a crisis. The team at Oasis helps patients avoid critical health problems by working together to manage chronic illnesses through counseling, lifestyle changes, prescription assistance, and timely treatment. In addition, the Oasis dental clinic helps patients to improve their oral health, an important part of a healthy life.
Oasis depends on both volunteer and paid providers and offers services that are totally free to all eligible patients. Oasis exists thanks to the donated time of providers, longtime support from Mid Coast-Parkview Health and the United Way, and donations from many generous individuals, businesses, churches, and foundations donors in our community.
Oasis may not be at the center of the debate about national health insurance, but it is a key piece to the solution for how we can provide care for many of our neighbors in the Midcoast region.
John LaCasse is a member of the board of Oasis Free Clinics, a non-profit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing patient-centered care to uninsured adults in Midcoast, Maine. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.