HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — The possibility of contracting coronavirus is scary for anyone, but especially for those who don't have health insurance.
In North Carolina, 16% of people are uninsured. At least 120,000 of them are in Mecklenburg County -- and those numbers are growing as more people lose their jobs.
However, there are local clinics that can help families without insurance cover their medical bills.
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Lake Norman Community Clinic has seen a 15% increase in new patients since the COVID-19 outbreak started in North Carolina. Many of those are people who have lost their jobs and their health insurance.
Patient visits at the clinic look a little different these days. On Thursday, Doug Blackwell had his blood pressure checked from his driver’s seat. Blackwell has been seeing physicians at the Lake Norman Community Clinic for four years. He works part-time in construction and his employer doesn’t offer health insurance.
“It started out as diabetes. I got diabetes and it was really out of control. These folks here at the clinic … they saved my life. I’m no longer considered a diabetic,” said Blackwell.
Lake Norman Community Clinic is one of 15 free and charitable clinics in our area that are also offering services through telemedicine so they can stay open during the pandemic. They’re funded largely by public and private dollars. The executive director at the Lake Norman clinic, April Cook, said patient donations account for one-fifth of the facility’s budget.
“We don’t ever charge. We’re free. We do ask for donations, and most of our patients will donate between $5 and $20 to be seen. Right now, we’re not asking for any donations. Right now, those precious dollars need to go to their household to provide food and pay necessary bills,” said Cook.
Cook told Channel 9 they closed their exam rooms weeks ago after a patient with COVID-19 symptoms showed up at their doorstep. She expects that by June, they’ll see a 50% increase in new patients, with more people losing their health coverage. To ensure they can see everyone, the facility has waived eligibility screenings for two months. The only requirement to see a doctor is to be uninsured.
“Right now, it’s our job as a community partner to make sure we take care of anyone who is uninsured,” said Cook.
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Care Ring, a Charlotte health clinic, is also going above and beyond to serve its patients. They’re also doing patient visits through telemedicine.
“Without having a funding source, we went ahead and said we’re not going to charge people," said Dr. Don Jonas. "They need us, this is our mission. This is the work that we’re going to do.”
Jones said a $75,000 gift from The United Way is allowing them to see patients for free. He said it’s critical that they continue to see patients.
“Most of the people we serve in our clinic have multiple chronic diseases. They need to be monitoring their blood pressure, they need to be tracking their weight," Jones said. "There’s all sorts of things we want to do with them but it’s almost like these immediate humanitarian issues have almost raised to the front.”
Jones said many of the clinic’s patients have food insecurities so they’ve been working with Loaves and Fishes to provide groceries to their patients.
Cook said her clinic also received a $5,000 donation, which they turned into gift cards for their patients.
All of this to serve people, like Blackwell.
"I thank these people for everything. I love them for what they do," said Blackwell.
Between the 67 free and charitable health clinics in the state, they see about 80,000 uninsured patients annually. Randy Jordan, CEO of the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, said they expect the need for their services will only grow in the coming months.
“We just received a report that North Carolina might expect as many as 300,000 uninsureds and we’re trying to get ready for that wave of new patients,” said Jordan.
Jordan said the clinics help alleviate pressure on emergency rooms and our area hospitals. Jordan said the North Carolina Health Clinics moved to telemedicine faster than other medical facilities. Clinics in other states and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have asked for their model.
>> Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke looked into what options people have if they don’t have health insurance:
- Affordable Care Act: You have 60 days to apply. Individuals making about $30,000, and a family of four making $60,000 can get plans. (Even if you have a plan, if your situation changed recently, go back and look. You may be able to get more of your premium covered.)
- If you make less than that or you are under the age of 21, or you are over 65 years old, you may qualify for Medicaid.
- COBRA: Health insurance coverage under federal law tends to be expensive, but it could be a short-term option.
Free health care clinics that are open and offering telemedicine:
Care Ring: 601 East 5th Street Charlotte, NC 28202
Patient phone: 704-375-0172
Shelter Health Service Inc.: 534 Spratt St Charlotte, NC 28206
Patient phone: 704-334-0000
Smith Family Wellness Center at Project 658: 3522 Central Avenue Charlotte, NC 28205
Patient phone: 704-910-5810
Camino Clinic: 133 Stetson Dr. Charlotte, NC 28262
Patient phone: 704-596-5606
Lake Norman Community Health Clinic: 14230 Hunters Road Huntersville, NC 28078
Patient phone: 704-316-6611
Matthews Free Medical Clinic: 196 S Trade St Matthews, NC 28105
Patient phone: 704-841-8882
HealthReach Community Clinic: 400 E Statesville Avenue Mooresville, NC 28115
Patient phone: 704-663-1992
Community Free Clinic: 528 Lake Concord Rd NE, Concord, NC 28025
Patient phone: 704-782-0650
Community Care Clinic of Rowan County: 315 Mocksville Avenue Salisbury, NC 28144
Patient phone: 704-636-4523
Community Health Service of Union County Inc.: 1338 East Sunset Drive Monroe, NC 28112
Patient phone: 704-296-0909
John P. Murray Community Care Clinic: 303 Yadkin St. Albemarle, NC 28001
Patient phone: 980-323-4668
Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry: 31 1st Avenue SE Hickory, NC 28602
Patient phone: 828-327-0979
The Good Samaritan Clinic of Morganton: 305 W Union St, Morganton, NC 28655
Patient phone: 828-212-4185
Helping Hands Clinic: 810 Harper Avenue NW Lenoir, NC 28645
Patient phone: 828-754-8565
Community Care Clinic: 141 Health Center Dr. B, Boone, NC 28607
Patient phone: 828-262-1628
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