Nearly 75 million Americans have been without health insurance at some point in the last two years. And, it's estimated 1.6 million of those are in Virginia right now. While those numbers are alarming, they could have far greater impact on free clinics that serve many of the uninsured.
"Quite frankly I am shocked and appalled that there are now 75 million Americans uninsured," said Ellie Swecker, Executive Director of the Harrisonburg Free Clinic.
The rise in uninsured Americans is being blamed on many factors: including the nation's sluggish economy and businesses cutting back or charging more for employee health care coverage.
As little as two years ago, on an average Wednesday, the free clinic would turn away two to three patients. That number increased to 10 recently. And Wednesday they'll be turning away 20, which is a record for them.
Swecker said most of the patients at the clinic are between 40 and 65. Too young for Medicare, but just starting to develop chronic disease.
"Those people are entering our service after becoming gravely ill, because they wait too long to access healthcare," said Swecker
State budget cuts have affected other local services like the Community Service Board. Patient overflow from there finds its way to the free clinic. And Swecker said the clinic is nearly overwhelmed
"We are doing our best to take care of that population of uninsured," said Swecker. "However, if the growth is going to be almost doubled, I don't think the free clinic system is going to be able to handle that much growth."
There are more free clinics in Virginia than any other state in the country.