Uninsured camp out for free healthcare

July 30, 2009

(Click here for an emeddable version of the video)

The Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corp (RAM) is a non-profit organization that provides free health care, dental care and eye care in remote areas of the United States and the world since 1985. Volunteer doctors, nurses and support workers provide the care at their own expense and the medical supplies, medicines, facilities and vehicles are all donated by supporters.

From July 24-26, I attended the RAM event at the Wise County Fairgrounds in Wise, Virginia. The area is in the Appalachian Mountain region bordering Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.

People received numbers and started lining up to enter the health clinic around 4 a.m.

For those who did not receive the full range of health care they needed, they spent the night in their cars and returned the next day.

It was truly a remarkable experience to witness how many people in the United States, ranging from infants to the elderly, have little or no access to healthcare. It was truly the front lines of the healthcare problem in our country.

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, July 29, President Barack Obama discussed his healthcare plans at a town hall meeting in Bristol, Virginia, 62 miles from the Wise County Fairgrounds. He acknowledged the outstanding work of everybody associated with the event.

“People are able to get care because of the great volunteer efforts of people all over the country. That’s great,” President Obama said in front of employees of the local supermarket.

Further coverage elsewhere online:

In Virginia, health fair tends to America’s poor (AFP)

Rural Medical Camp Tackles Health Care Gaps (NPR)

On health care, America looks awfully third-world (Oregonian)

A different perspective on the health care debate (Daily Kos)

The Doctor Is In – in the Heart of Appalachia (AARP)

Uninsured queue for free healthcare (AFP)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Wow! Thats it? This IS the real story of Health Care in America. Main steam media misses the core issue again.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

Awesome, The free giving spirit of the American people is alive and well. Too bad the editor’s notes had to turn this charitable article into a political issue.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

I wonder how many law makers opposed to “equal healthcare for everyone” attended. They should be required to attend and talk to the people on line so they can get exposed to America they don’t see.Likewise the media should be asked why they are not covering this more loudly. I learned about this on the internet not from TV or newspaper.

Posted by William Jones | Report as abusive

One of the sad things is that in many states, regulations limit or prohibit doctors and nurses from providing care out of state, even if its as a volunteer.In addition, many companies that provide malpractice insurance also have limitations on what doctors can do.Stan Brock should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Posted by TomG | Report as abusive

Amazing that these people have money for tatoos, cigarettes and cars, yet somehow lack the ability to buy a toothbrush. How does one wage war on disease? By enslaving those who fight disease? You have no right to anything that is produced or provided by another person. You are only free (have the right) to act. To spend wisely, to brush your teeth, to make yourself attractive to employers and to decide what treatment is worth your money and wahat treatment is not. For the price of a carton of cigarettes, one can visit a doctor and pay cash. The unproductive will always demand products they need, but are never willing to trade something of equal value. Who is greedy, the man who keeps what he earns or the parasite who demands a host?

Posted by Marc Bechtol | Report as abusive

I live in New Zealand we have public health (state funded health care) and at times we all moan about it. After seeing this I’ll never moan again and thank my lucky stars I live here. I thought that America was one of the greatest countries in the world. I believe the sign of a good society is how they look after their weakest members.Wow what an eye opener!!

Posted by Rowena | Report as abusive

First off, many people in Kentucky depend on water from cisterns and wells, which have no fluoride. Second, they do not practice sound hygiene. Teachers in the schools try to teach them to brush their teeth and bathe.I live in Kentucky and I know people who went to this event last year and this year. They smoke, eat out, have cable or satellite TV, and keep Mountain Dew or Pepsi in their house at all times. Seriously, the pop they drink in this culture is amazing. They do not drink ice tea or kool-aid.My adult son had a bad tooth, and no insurance. He went to the local dentist and it cost $11.00 (eleven dollars,) to get his tooth pulled and $4 for a prescription.The state has a program that charges according to how much you earn. You sign up right at the doctors office. They help you fill out the papers. Some people are free. Almost ALL the children in Kentucky get free medical and dental.All the people who stood in line for free care in Kentucky, could and do go to the local doctors if they are willing to pay the small fees. The only reason children would need to stand in one of these lines was because their parents took them along. Everyone know children get FREE care in Kentucky, except for the highest incomes.One of the guys who went works and earns $65,000 a year. He just wants to spend his money on other things besides having a tooth pulled. Him and his wife wear jeans that cost them over $100 a pair, and they brag about it.Drugs, especially meth are big back in the woods of Kentucky. This is bad on their teeth. Many druggies would rather be treated by strangers who wont report them, then sober up and go to a doctor that will.Now that thee doctors are coming back each year, people are waiting to see them instead of going to the local clinics and paying the small fees that are based on their income. The line grows.

Posted by Robin in Kentucky | Report as abusive

I work full-time but I can’t afford health care. I do not smoke, drink or have tattoos, Marc. I’m quite productive and am a valued member of my community, and I live quite frugally.For the price of a carton of cigarettes one can visit a doctor? Think again. A first time doctor visit in Alaska is upwards of $200, minimum.There are many, many people who work full-time and who still have no access to good health care.

Posted by Jean McD | Report as abusive

Why didnt these same people take advantage of the walk-in clinics all over Virginia or the clinics in the CVS pharmacies, or Walmart? Walmart has had such little response to their clinics that they are discontinuing it in many stores. ACCESS IS A LIE!

Posted by hannahAr | Report as abusive

These photos of people are on line for free health care shows,the importance of Mr.Obama!s new health care plan.very touchy scenesCapitalism,Free market theories always not hold good.We should be flexible,frank in vital matters.There are so many Americans are suffering on account of heavyexpenses for any ,immediate surgeries.

Posted by krishnamurthi ramachandran | Report as abusive

Agree with Marc Bechtol and Robin in Kentucky.

Posted by Conserv1 | Report as abusive

The reporter missed this story by a mile. Robin in Kt has it right. There are outlets for these people. They choose this method as it is completely free, rather than the small fee at a local help center.–

Posted by mark | Report as abusive

It’s sad that so many people assume that the only people who have no insurance or major-medical insurance are those who do not work or are here illegally. I have a BBA and a decent job but my employer does not provide major medical and I can not afford to buy it privately. I make plenty to pay taxes for Congress and Federal Employees to have a wonderful plan, for Medicare, for Medicaid, and so forth – just not for me. Many doctors will not even see you if you are un-insured; hospitals must treat you if you are critical, but they can just stabilize and send you home if you are uninsured. Yes, I could probably sell my house and rent a small apartment and afford health insurance with the difference. I have worked my whole life and until a few years ago, always had good insurance. Then, when I was laid off I lost my insurance and now can only get a contract position at a lesser rate of pay and no benefits (no paid sick time, no major medical coverage, etc) and unable to afford private coverage. So, to those of you who look down on the uninsured as somehow not worthy of coverage or parasites, pray to God every night before bed that you don’t get laid off and lose your insurance or you will find that you too have become one of “those people”.

Posted by kcgrandma | Report as abusive

kcgrandma: I appreciate the emotions displayed in your comment. I would like to point out that individual medical is always less expensive than group, maybe not in costs to you directly, but in true costs yes. Had you set up your own coverage earlier on and obtained your own contract you would not have found obtaining coverage to be so difficult. But that is more a matter of understanding the industry and education…which does not happen unless you seek it out. Now, I am confused about some statements. Do you feel that it is the obligation of an employer to provide you coverage? Why didn’t you negotiate the coverage, or payment for coverage, in your contract? Why not become an employer…build a business and then afford coverage? I don’t understand how whining about the lack of coverage removes your personal responsibility to gain the coverage you need. All Obamacare is about is removing that from you, at a much higher price tag.

Posted by Publius Alter | Report as abusive

Regardless of why these people are coming to this event, it saves us all money to have them there, even if they are druggies. That tooth issue will turn into a heart issue if left untreated, and then YOU and I will be paying much more to have the person treated for that surgery. It saves YOU money for that druggie (if he is one) to get treated.

Posted by jeremy | Report as abusive

There are people in this country who don’t smoke, aren’t meth-heads and try to eat well AND ALSO have difficulty affording health care.Yes there are those who game the system, but to pretend in our own heads that everybody who pursues free or inexpensive health care is a meth addict is merely a way to make us feel better about ourselves and doesn’t address the greater issue of unaffordable health care.It’s easier to demonize than to actually some really large, uncomfortable and difficult to solve problems.In-store clinics (Wal-Mart, Walgreens, CVS) handle only basic services using Nurse Practitioners, not the full spectrum care that humans might actually require. They do fill a niche. My girlfriend went to one, a Minute clinic at CVS, to see about her allergies.There are “flat rate” Primary Care providers which have an average cost of $75 per month.There are still holes in coverage where relief is needed most: between the middle class and poverty level.

Posted by Bryan | Report as abusive

People, if you want health care, get off your obese butt and get it. People that are in the “can’t afford it” camp, usually have a few common denominators… If you can smoke, you can stop smoking and pay for your own damn policy.Stop taxing me! You want it, go get it! The US Constitution does NOT refer to health care, move to a state that thinks that way and bankrupt it. Stop treading on me!Insurance should not cover your stupid sniffles or lame visits, you should ONLY use insurance for the big ones… You do not go to your insurance company for your car demanding windshield wipers for free.Smarten up.

Posted by Gil | Report as abusive

Every one of these people could have had the care they needed if they had shown some sort of initiative. Heck, most of them could get some help through their churches!!! Most don’t sound like they had the initiative to graduate from high school, either. Any country that provides at least twelve years of free public education shouldn’t have these problems IF the people had actually gone to school and sought good jobs. I have a hard time feeling sorry for people who make many bad decisions in their own lifes, and then expect someone else to bail their hineys out of trouble.

Posted by RightStuff | Report as abusive

It’s big picture time: This is a chain reaction that starts with the legislature who won’t put caps on civil judgements. Outrageous judgements cause huge sums paid by insurance companies that beget high insurance premiums for doctors who must charge high rates. This means that healthcare insurers have to charge high premiums, so many people can’t afford it.It’s time to cap judgements…write your legislator.

Posted by Johnathan | Report as abusive

I wish some, if not all Americans can understand that there is no free health care – one way or another the American taxpayers will pay the bill.If people believe that there is, they are just as ignorant of facts and will always lose out on the freedoms and rights that this country offers.GOD HELP US!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

My family is another example of the uninsured. We have 4 kids and are currently insured, but not sure how long we can keep this up. Even though we pay almost $500 each month, just went to the Dr. for a less than 5 minutes, and it cost me $75.I am not sure how it will go, but I hope that President Obama can make a public option for Americans.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

The medical professionals from RAM are worthy people indeed, freely giving their time as charity to those in need. That is profoundly moral.What a pity the article conflates freely given charity with state imposed medical care that literally takes from some by force and gives to other more politically favoured people because they feel entitled to the money of others.

Posted by Perry de Havilland | Report as abusive

Way too many of these people are nothing but freeloading bums!

Posted by El gato | Report as abusive

To imply that this apparently successful and purely volunteer generated effort is emblematic of our lack of Gov. managed, nationalized health care is disingenuous. Furthermore, shame on Reuters playing host to this one-sided advocacy piece. Thank you, Robin in Kentucky, for telling a side of the story that is entirely lacking in the video.

Posted by Chris D. | Report as abusive

This is what “free” nationalized healthcare will look like. People lining up, camping out to get even basic care. THis is what you want?

Posted by Thom Yorke | Report as abusive

Granted there are many Americans who cannot afford healthcare but there are quite a few people here who do smoke and some drive a nice truck and want to get healthcare for free. I went to a function like the one you see here in Welch, WV, which is an impoverished area. What I saw were women who had 2 or more children, not married and smoking like there was no end. Sure they received welfare but when they wanted more money they would get themselves knocked up and receive more federal assistance.Not all Americans are like that but what I do notice a lot of them do smoke and drink a lot of sodas. I do believe we need healthcare reform but not at the expense of others unless they are willing to be told how to live a much healthier existence. I just worry that Obama’s healthcare plan is going to take away other peoples rights of choice of healthcare for the ones you do manage to be able to pay for it.To fair and honest I don’t have to worry about healthcare because I receive healthcare through the VA system. My benefits are not taxed and I receive the same healthcare for the most part like some politicians.I did see my wife’s brother buy a new truck and then take their child who was sick to a hospital for a free checkup rather than go without buying the new truck. My wife’s family is from Whitman, WV. And I have seen the way some people live in those areas and I can tell you they don’t live very healthy but that is not isolated to people in those areas.We as Americans seem to think we earn the right to have healthcare but I can tell you that is not the way it is. Their needs to be reform in the healthcare system but it shouldn’t be given away freely. I do understand about the elderly and some individuals with certain medical conditions but for the rest there needs to be a sense of accountability. You want to live the American dream, “you need to earn it” and if you can’t, “you sacrifice and go without”…

Posted by Michael Ford | Report as abusive

Jean McD – Free Cinics will work with you on cost – when you enter a medical emergency facility they will have you fill out Medicaid papers – whether you can or cant pay you will be treated – outside of that do what I did. I got a good job and rose out of the bowels of a New York City housing project – received my healthcare, retired and maintain my PRIVATE healthcare – it’s called education and labor. Try it!

Posted by LOD_NYPD | Report as abusive

Some people, pay for as little as they can and get free food, and free healthcare. Some will not work even though work is available, but they do not work. For them they have to find a free clinic. Some of us want a system that is like basic transportation and not a Cadillac and we are willing to pay for it. Even in countries with nationalized systems people pay premiums and higher taxes for an adequate level of care. I cannot afford to wait in line for hours as I have work to do.

Posted by f belz | Report as abusive

NOTHING is free……… and if you do the projections, American will go broke just paying for the health care of slobs who should eat less and not smoke.

Posted by Imin Lyne | Report as abusive

the Obama administration agenda is looking more and more like Castro’s agenda when he took power. I was there. First, eliminate free speech and dissention by sending all opposition members to prison or out of the country. Then nationalization of all private businesses, takeover of all media and public services. All with the promise of turning Cuba into a socialist utopia. We know what happened there. Is that what we wantfor the USA? God help us.

Posted by CRIOLLA | Report as abusive

If the government has a “public option” it will cause people like me who like their current insurance to loose it. It will not make things more competitive, it will make everyone go to the “public option” and thus delete insurance company options. Then we will have a single payer system. The government should stay out of healthcare. Health insurance is a privilege, not a right. And no ER will turn you away just because you do not have insurance.

Posted by Joshua | Report as abusive

The washington insiders are at it again. What happened to congress coming to the people and asking what there opinion is on the health reform. The people we elect think its there god given right to ASSUME what is best for the voting public. The problem is they ASSUME and when someone ASSUMES it back fires. The health care reform is back firing as it did the previous attempts because of their ASSUMPTIONS. The reason for all the negative reaction is they ASSUMED again. I think we need reform and a safety net. The reform is with the hospital charges, prescription cost and age 55 coverage and children coverage. I too had a mother and father who died of cancer and they had money problems with prescription cost HMM. Just blanketing the public with reform is not good and NOT COST EFFECTIVE. How will my children pay for the debt and will our children be able to have a chicken in the pot,a house over there head and a chevy in the driveway as I grew up. I think not if the debt load keeps growing and our President wanting to spend – spend – spend OUR MONEY on health care without asking WHAT WE WANT. The president started out as a activist lawyer in Chicago and he ASSUMES that he knows what is best for the John Q public. I say NO TO THE COSTLY HEALTH CARE REFORM congress has put forth. I SAY YES TO HEALTH REFORM WHEN IT COMES FROM THE VOTING PUBLIC because we are WE THE PEOPLE and we pay the public servants to make good and honest cost effective reform laws….. GOD BLESS YOU AND ARE FIGHTING MEN AND WOMEN WHO MAKE OUR USA GREAT.

Posted by gary simison | Report as abusive

Not passing a national healthcare system will be a big win for the insurance industry and a big loss for the american people. What type of society have we become when the average person can’t afford or get basic healthcare services?Before you start slamming a government run healthcare system maybe you should go to England. Even if you are not a citizen and you break a leg or get sick there you can see a doctor the same day for FREE. Sure, some rare conditions may have a wait to see a doctor but isn’t it the same case here?Some ask how will we pay for this all? You are already paying for this if you have insurance. It will be cheaper throught the government because you won’t have insurance companies extracting huge profits from the system. Also, government has no plans to ever payoff the debt so let’s finally spend some money on something good for the American people.How did healtchare get so expensive in this country? It’s because of the insurance companies making you buy health insurance and making doctors buy liability insurance. I have met doctors that won’t practice in certain areas because the liability insurance is too high.

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

[…] goal of universal coverage seems as distant as it was in 1969, when he first advocated it. 30 July Uninsured camp out for free healthcare The Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corp (RAM) is a non-profit organization that provides free health […]

Posted by Wednesday-Night – » Healthcare | Report as abusive

Must be such an organization. According to another can not.

Posted by StopSmokerMen | Report as abusive

I only briefly wanted to respond to a comment I saw from August 10th: You are absolutely wrong. You can be, and will be turned away from many ERs if you do not have health insurance. Even if you have a severe, life-threatening disorder. You can be, and will be turned away. You’re confused because you cannot be turned away from a PUBLIC HOSPITAL. A private hospital is fully within their rights to refuse you.The point you’re claiming supports the opposite of your conclusion: do some research.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive