Locals seek a faster healthcare fix 

While we wait on Washington, individuals are taking the reigns

National healthcare reform — whatever that means — has been promised by the end of the year. Even when (or if) that goal is met, there won't be any quick changes. There's more than 1,000 pages of minutia to sift through, and some are plotting against its success before it even gets started.

But some locals aren't waiting for the government to change their insurance fortunes — they're taking on healthcare reform themselves.

Donna Ellington has been lobbying the National Association of Free Clinics to come to Charleston. Last week, 2,300 patients were seen at a two-day NAFC event in Kansas City. Similar clinics have been held in New Orleans, Little Rock, and Houston. Ellington has also started a Facebook page to build support for a massive free clinic to travel to the Lowcouintry.

As a school psychologist in rural Berkeley County for 20 years, Ellington says she saw the effects of a lack of healthcare — children coming to kindergarten without any teeth or with perpetual, untreated infections.

Ellington's personal experience has also motivated her. One of her sons has struggled without quality insurance for years. Because of preexisting conditions, he has had a tough time finding good coverage on the open market and has settled for a catastrophic plan that doesn't address routine health concerns.

There are four free clinics in operation in Charleston County, some with limited operating hours, maximum income limits, and residency restrictions that prevent some from being seen. A massive weekend clinic would also likely bring in a large number of people from surrounding rural areas, Ellington says.

University of South Carolina student Matthew Johnson is also looking to bring a free clinic program to South Carolina. An undergrad with his sights on dental school, Johnson has travelled four times in the past year to rural areas of Tennessee, volunteering with the Remote Area Medical Center. The program is unique because of Tennessee's Open Borders to Doctors law, which allows out-of-state doctors to practice in the state without a license, so medical professionals from throughout the South can offer their services — including doctors, dentists, optometrists, and veterinarians. Medical instruments and other supplies are also donated.

"It's amazing the number of people who show up," Johnson says. On his last strip in September, 715 patients were seen in two days, receiving over $140,000 in free services, including 324 dental procedures.

Johnson has been able to shadow dentists as they provide extractions, cleanings, and fillings for a population that may only see a dentist when the clinic comes around.

A South Carolina ETV crew came along for Johnson's trip in September. He's hopeful the attention will boost state legislation to provide similar out-of-state allowances for doctors so that South Carolina can host a Remote Area Medical Center in the future.

Those with existing insurance need some help, too.

Reese McFaddin has been helping local businesses and individuals lower their healthcare costs for eight years. Climbing costs and the national attention to the issue are keeping her busy.

"They're just either savvy, and they know there are options out there, or they're just looking for a way to save on their budget," McFaddin says.

These days, she's helping a lot of young people lower their healthcare costs by abandoning whatever their employer is offering. She helped one young client recently who was suffering because his much older coworkers were driving up premiums in the office plan.

"When you're young and healthy, I encourage people to take advantage of it while you have it," McFaddin says. "Why are you paying for the expensive Cadillac plan when you don't drive it?"

Individual plans can also work for young families not getting the most out of their company's family plan — and there are even a few individual programs that include tax deductions. But not everyone can or should jump off their company's policy. Individuals with preexisting conditions are often turned down by insurers and sometimes the employer's plan is best.

"I tell people to do their homework," McFaddin says. "Look at the last year and add up the real costs of your visits and then compare that to the premiums you pay."

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