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Survey provides snapshot of nation's free clinics

Free clinics in the United States annually provide care for nearly 2 million people and more than half of the organizations don't receive government funding, according to a report published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers conducted a national mail survey of all known free clinics in the U.S. between October 2005 and December 2006. The survey response rate was 75.9 percent, or 764 clinics. MedPage Today reports:

The survey revealed that free clinics operate an average of 18 hours a week, an average three days a week, on a mean budget of $287,810, with 95.2% providing medical treatment.

Nearly three-fifths (58.7%) receive no government-supplied revenue, and slightly more than a quarter (26%) receive less than a fourth of their budget from any government source.

A whopping 92.2% of patients going to the free clinics are uninsured, and more than half (56.1%) earn below the poverty level. Only 40.8% are at or earn up to two times the poverty level, while the remaining 3.1% earn more than 200% poverty level.

In their conclusion, researchers urged policy makers to evaluate options for providing financial support for free clinics. Study author Julie S. Darnell, PhD, said in a release:

Free clinics have passed the point in history when they can exist below the radar. At the same time, policymakers and other safety net providers must acknowledge the important role that free clinics play. Formal integration of free clinics into the safety net has the potential to strengthen the overall health system, which is important regardless of the outcomes of the national health reform debate.

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