Good Neighbor Free Medical Clinic of Beaufort: With the arrival of the Affordable Care Act, is it still needed?

in Voices by

By Jim Hicks

The Good Neighbor Free Medical Clinic of Beaufort is one of the very real success stories in which all residents of northern Beaufort County can take pride.  It was established in 2007 as a 501©(3) nonprofit organization to provide free primary health care services for low-income, uninsured, adult residents of Beaufort County, and originally was located in the City of Beaufort.

By 2010, the clinic had outgrown the Beaufort site and relocated to its present home on Lady’s Island where larger facilities were available. Located in the Professional Village on Lady’s Island (the office complex behind Sonic off Sea Island Parkway), a group of individuals works quietly and without fanfare to provide medical care for those who have no other place to seek help.

The amazing aspect of this medical clinic is that its services are able to be offered free of charge to all Beaufort County residents between the ages of 18 and 64 who have a total household income less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, have no health insurance including Medicaid and Medicare, and are unable to afford or are not eligible for coverage.  The primary reason its services can be provided without charge is the fact that it is staffed by volunteer physicians, nurses and other health professionals who donate their time and talents.

Laboratory tests and diagnostic procedures are provided as a contribution from Beaufort Memorial Hospital and funding is provided by grants and individual gifts.

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act this year, will there continue to be a need for the operation of the clinic? The simple answer is yes.

A key part of the original Affordable Care Act, as passed by Congress in 2010, was the mandatory expansion of the Medicaid program in each state.  In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled the mandatory expansion of the Medicaid program was unconstitutional. As a result of this ruling, some states, including South Carolina, chose not to implement the Medicaid expansion portion of the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, South Carolina’s narrow Medicaid eligibility criteria remained unchanged. As a result it was estimated that in 2013 between 150,000 and 185,000 people in South Carolina would end up not being eligible for either the State Medicaid program or the federal Affordable Care Act subsidized insurance program.

In northern Beaufort County, the number of individuals between the ages of 18 and 64 earning below the established federal poverty line and still ineligible for either Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act is estimated to be approximately 5,500 adults. For these patients and many other low-income individuals in northern Beaufort County, the Good Neighbor Free Clinic of Beaufort is the only accessible source of primary health care services.

This is a political year with a large number of county, state and national offices scheduled to be on the November ballot. There will be all sorts of claims for and against the Affordable Care Act. However, one of the things that should not be open for debate is strong community support for the Good Neighbor Free Medical Clinic of Beaufort. It provided medical care, without the support of a single tax dollar, for 1,779 patient visits in 2013. The need for its services is not going to go away.

In 2014, with the continued generous support of private donors, religious organizations, foundations and the Beaufort Memorial Hospital, the clinic will be able to continue providing access to affordable healthcare for the low-income uninsured of northern Beaufort County.

On behalf of the Lady’s Island community to all who support this worthwhile endeavor, thank you.

Anyone with medical experience and a desire to volunteer with the Good Neighbor Free Medical Clinic of Beaufort can call 843-470-9088 or email gnmc1402@embarqmail.com