SMYTH COUNTY, VA - Hundreds of people are flocking to a free health clinic in Smyth County starting Friday and running through Sunday. This comes a day after Republicans in Congress passed a bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Some providers worry the act would increase the need for the free remote clinics.
Patient Pat Gobble said she feels strongly this first step towards repealing the Affordable Care Act is a move in the wrong direction.
"It's going to help the richer people but it's not going to help the poorer people," Gobble.
But another patient, Cathryn Mitchell, said she's optimistic President Trump and Congress will do right by those there.
"I think that they do want something better for the American people and I think they're trying to show that they do," Mitchell said.
The bill seeks to return power to the states, allowing insurers to provide plans without essential health benefits as required under Obamacare, and weakening protections for people with pre-existing conditions. That could impact a large number of those seeking treatment at this remote area clinic, according to optometrist Victoria Milnar Weiss, president of Ram Virginia.
"Almost everyone who comes to this clinic has either diabetes, or high blood pressure, or different types of cancer," Dr. Milnar Weiss said.
The bill would also end enhanced Medicaid expansion for low-income adults in 2020 and would bar other states from Medicaid expansion. There are predictions that would cut Medicaid spending by 25-percent, but pulmonologist Joe Smiddy worries it would contribute to millions losing coverage.
"They're going to be patients with cancer and expensive treatments they can no longer afford," Dr. Smiddy said. He insists funding for key preventive care, and mental health and substance abuse would be decimated.
"We're ground zero for the substance crisis," Dr. Smiddy said, "and many of those patients who are receiving care are receiving it through the Affordable Care Act."
Meanwhile some, like nurse practitioner Jim Kenderick, sees it as a bad replacement for an already bad system.
"Just like with Obamacare, we were told it was great, but when you dug into 2,000 pages of information, it wasn't so great," Kenderick said.
The bill is headed for a Senate vote within a few months.
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