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|Help on the way for uninsured working class|
Local officials hope Northeast Louisiana Virtual Clinic will be up and running by January.
The virtual clinic is a project the Living Well Foundation wants implemented in the eight-parish region the foundation serves. It was modeled after a similar clinic in Baton Rouge.
The goal of the virtual clinic is to provide healthcare for people in the eight-parish region who are considered the "working uninsured."
One in five Louisiana residents is uninsured. Many working residents do not make enough to pay for health insurance or medical treatment.
The Ouachita Medical Society and the Northeast Louisiana Dental Society are in charge of launching a similar program in northeast Louisiana.
Pam Glass, executive director of the Ouachita Medical Society, said the medical and dental societies have selected 13 of their members to serve on an advisory board for the virtual clinic.
That advisory group is in the process of talking with local hospitals and other medical groups, which will be participate in the virtual clinic.
Glass has been involved with the Ouachita Medical Society for 17 years. She says she has never seen the medical society more excited about a project.
So far, the medical community also has responded well to the virtual clinic concept, Glass said.
"I think they're very excited about being able to give their time to help the working uninsured," Glass said. "They want to give their time to help people, and this is one way for them to do that, by providing their services and medical care for free."
"That's the purpose of this … to help those people out," Glass said.
Living Well Foundation board member Blake Wheelis said the virtual clinic concept is not a "brick and mortar" building. Instead, it is a partnership with local doctors and dentists who are willing to give a certain number of appointments to help the working uninsured.
"When a person cannot afford healthcare any other way, they can use the virtual clinic as an option," Wheelis said. "They get to see a doctor or dentist or the healthcare provider they need. The Baton Rouge model is working tremendously well down there."
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris, who serves as chairman of the Living Well Foundation, agreed the local medical community had embraced the concept of the virtual clinic wholeheartedly.
"It's been amazing since we threw that idea out to the medical society," Norris said. "This is for people who fall through the cracks."
"It's for employed people who don't have health insurance," he said. "This is the biggest group of the uninsured … the people who are employed."
Patients who are eligible to get medical assistance from Northeast Louisiana Medical Clinic can see a doctor and dentist for six months. After six months, patients have the option to renew a six-month contract with doctors. Dentists say they will only need six months to repair a patient's dental problems, Glass said.
All medical assistance and dental work will be free.
Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic was launched in 2000. It was one of the first "virtual clinics" in the country to pool regional physicians and dentists together to offer free medical treatment for the working uninsured.
Today, it has more than 400 physicians and dentists involved in the program.
Through the Baton Rouge program, dentists and physicians make a commitment to see a number of patients during a six-month period. Each medical professional determines how many patients they will see during a six-month period.
According to various surveys, a large portion of Louisiana's population gets medical care through the state's charity hospital's emergency rooms.
Glass said another goal of the virtual clinic is to reduce the number of people seeking treatment through at emergency rooms.
"The charity hospitals are inundated, and it takes about eight to 12 months to get an appointment," Glass explained. "Also, these people are working, and most don't have the time to take off and go to Conway."
"The clinic should help keep from overburdening the local emergency rooms," Glass added.
Eligibility with the Northeast Louisiana Virtual Clinic will be based on the following criteria:
- Must be currently working
- Must be working a minimum of 30 hours per week
- Must have worked 10 of the last 12 months
- Earned an income up to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines
- Must live in one of the eight parishes in northeast Louisiana
- Not have any form of medical or dental insurance
- Not be receiving any form of federal or state assistance