Wise, VA –Community members and health care advocates say the huge demand for RAM’s services exemplifies why health care reform is desperately needed in Appalachia and America. For the third year in a row, thousands of local residents will visit the Wise County Fairgrounds this weekend to receive medical care from The Remote Area Medical Foundation (RAM), a non-profit, volunteer, relief corps that provides medical services to remote areas.
RAM’s efforts have been applauded and celebrated by local residents and political leaders. Last year RAM facilitated 5598 patient encounters at the Wise County fairgrounds. The RAM Wise County effort was fueled by 1746 volunteers from RAM and local organizations and provided local residents with over $1.6 million worth of care, free of charge.
This weekend’s RAM clinic is expected to bring comparably large crowds, however the conversation around the state of health care in Southwest Virginia has changed. The passage of the Patient’s Protection and Affordable Protection Act in March has given many local residents hope that the bill’s expansion of coverage and affordability will not only reduce the need for RAM but provide Southwest Virginia with reliable care year round.
Jill Carson has volunteered at RAM with Stone Mountain Health Services Black Lung and Respiratory Care. “The number of people who get care at RAM speaks to the need to increase access to health care in the area,” said Carson. “The staff and volunteers at RAM do an amazing job. However, the question is: how do we get access to health care for the other 362 days? That is where the new health care bill comes in. We are finally laying the groundwork towards quality care for all.”
According to Energy and Commerce statistics, the heath care reform bill will improve coverage for 361,000 residents in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District with health insurance and extend coverage to 48,500 uninsured residents. “Quality, affordable and accessible health care is critically important for everyone. There are many paths to get to that point. The important thing is that we are moving along that path,” said Dr. Sue Cantrell.
Laura Lawson of Wise has volunteered with RAM in the past and has connected many people with the clinic through her work with Early Head Start. “I have seen the need for RAM through my work and my own family. I am glad the health care bill will expand coverage to those who need it and someday make RAM unnecessary,” said Lawson. “Yet a lot of people are unaware of the benefits that are available through the bill and have no idea how it can help them. I would like to see members of Congress work harder to make sure their constituents understand the ways they will benefit from health care reform.”
Fanchette Fannelli of the Fourth World Movement/Appalachia has supported the efforts of the Health Wagon to bring RAM to Southwest Virginia for years. Two years ago, she interviewed patients and volunteers at RAM and published a book, Here and Hurting, which was later shared with members of Congress.
This year, the organization will have an exhibit at RAM with photos of children around the world who have no access to health care. “Many people are served by RAM but the demand is so great that some people have to be turned away, even after waiting in line for hours. This was the case for a man that we brought to RAM last year. We certainly hope that the health care reform will eventually eliminate the need for programs like RAM in the United States. Until then, the under-insured and non-insured in our part of Appalachia will have to depend on the good will and dedication of the volunteers who make RAM possible,” said Fannelli.
In Congressman Boucher’s district, the health care reform bill will:
· Improve coverage for 361,000 residents with health insurance.
· Give tax credits and other assistance to up to 203,000 families and 12,200 small businesses to help them afford coverage.
· Improve Medicare for 134,000 beneficiaries, including closing the donut hole.
· Extend coverage to 48,500 uninsured residents.
· Guarantee that 10,800 residents with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage.
· Protect 800 families from bankruptcy due to unaffordable health care costs.
· Allow 55,000 young adults to obtain coverage on their parents’ insurance plans
· Provide millions of dollars in new funding for 44 community health centers
· Reduce the cost of uncompensated care for hospitals and other health care providers by $59 million annually.
-Statistics Provided by the House Energy and Commerce Committee