A lack of affordable healthcare options continues to leave many Americans uninsured and with little or no access to medical care. A Florida volunteer program is filling the gap. And if that program were to go national, it could provide more than $2 billion in free health care to Americans in need.
In 1992, Florida took a look at the problem of access, and found an innovative way to attract doctors to areas in which this was an issue. They came up with a solution that provided care without growing government: Volunteer Health Services.
“Any doctor who provided medical care to individuals who were qualified were granted sovereign immunity, were basically considered an agent of the state, for the purposes of providing that care,” explained Andrew Brown, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability.
“They operated under a contract that the physicians would sign, and the patients themselves would be notified that, for the purposes of this medical care, the physician is an agent who is granted sovereign immunity for medical malpractice liability,” Brown said. “What they also did was, they offered doctors the ability to offer continuing medical education credits.”
Doctors flocked to the program. “The result was really an explosion in medical care,” Brown said. “So, as of today, the program is providing about $300 million worth of care and service to uninsured low income patients through about 25,000 volunteers. Now, that majority of your volunteers are licensed medical practitioners: physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, what have you,” he explained.
“There’s another percentage that are unlicensed, people who serve as your clerical workers, interpreters for certain populations. When you do the math, it comes out to about 25,000 people each year who are volunteering their time and medical talents to care for the neediest among us,” Brown said.
This program is an example of how community members can help each other when the government gets out of the way
That is hard to beat and, due to this astounding success, the program has expanded twice. All of that free care comes at a cost of just $500,000 per year for record keeping purposes. Brown said that this is a return on investment of $614 of free medical care for every dollar spent.
This program is an example of how community members can help each other when the government gets out of the way.
“It’s important because you have this idea of community helping and, when you look at Medicaid expansion, everything the government is trying to do, everything is the government is instituting the program, the government is overseeing them, and it’s actually been stifling physicians from providing these services,” Brown said. “We know from the experience of Florida and volunteer care is these doctors, this is in their DNA. They want to help patients, and they want to help patients that are really in need of help. So, if you provide them with the incentive to do it, with the protection to do it, you’re going to find doctors, you’re freeing them to do what they’re trying to do.”
Because of this program, 97 percent of Floridians now live in a community that has at least one volunteer provider.
Health issues impact every aspect of a person’s life, so providing healthcare can really turn a life around. Brown spoke of a truck driver with diabetes who was unable to get insulin and, because his diabetes was then not under control, he was unable to drive his truck and lost his job. He went to Grace Medical Home and got treatment, the insulation he needed, and got his job back.
“What that simple thing did,” Brown said, “providing this man with medical care, didn’t just impact his health, it impacted his entire life. Because of the volunteer services offered by those physicians, he was able to go back to work. He was able to get health insurance, he was able to provide for his family. They moved him from behind dependent to being successful, and it’s that very baseline service that can have that far-reaching effect on moving people from dependency to success.”
Let’s empower professionals to volunteer their services without governmental and legal red tape. People helping people is the way to create success and change lives.