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As Congress debates health-care costs, a massive free clinic comes to Oakland

Rep. Paul Ryan, the chair of the budget committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, recently proposed a 2012 budget that would privatize Medicare and turn Medicaid into a state block grant program. The proposal comes at a time when Americans seem more concerned with health-care costs than ever: According to a recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund, more than a third of all Americans, many of whom already have health insurance, have had problems paying medical bills. And Ryan's proposal seems likely to affect mainly those who are already struggling.

Now take a look at this microcosm of the nation's health-care woes: Thousands of people are expected to show up when a group of local volunteer medical professionals offer free dental, vision, and other medical care at a mass clinic taking place Saturday through Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. The organizers booked a space in Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum large enough to accommodate 3,000 people at a time, and they still expect to have to turn away patients from the four-day event. An April 1-4 Sacramento event served more than 3,400 people.

Patients come to these Remote Area Medical mass clinics mainly seeking dental and vision care. The Oakland clinic will also offer more general medical care, including women's health services, diabetes screening, physicals and acupuncture. There are no eligibility requirements to receive care.

Patient demand for the free services usually exceeds the supply of volunteers at these events, and people start to form lines as early as midnight before the doors open each day of the clinic. The organizers expect to have filled all of the available slots by 6 a.m. each day. Patients may have to wait outdoors for up to 12 hours in order to be seen, and organizers caution them to bring food and water and to prepare for variable temperatures and boredom.

Via ChronRx

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