WISE, Va. - An area health care organization that provides free care to those in need got a national spotlight Sunday with a story about them on CbS's "60 minutes."
The Health Wagon brought first-hand accounts to viewers about what they do and who they serve. We discovered the economy means more patients depend on the Health Wagon, despite the Affordable Care Act.
The phones at the Health Wagon in Wise, Virginia were ringing off the hook Monday, and staff was busy answering emails and calls from those who saw their segment on "60 Minutes" this weekend. "Most of the people are just very appreciative for the service that we're doing here. They want to make a donation, they're asking for a mailing address, and the majority are planning to do a continued donation, which is even better," says Madge Kiser, a volunteer with the Health Wagon.
For decades the Health Wagon has provided care for the uninsured, the working poor, and now a whole new group of people. "Our numbers are up by 70 percent. We've had all these coal mining layoffs in the area and the jobs associated with it. I have never seen it this dire with the economy," executive director Teresa Gardner said.
"[Laid off coal miners] are patients that are totally different than the population we've served before. They would not qualify for Medicaid expansion. They have always had good jobs, they have a house, they have a 401k because they work they always had good insurance. Now they are coming to us for this free clinic because there are no government programs at all because they worked all their lives," clinical director Paula Meade added.
Meaning what they've worked for would have to given up, just to have some form of insurance. "How many of us can take our whole life savings? That's what's going to happen, they will have to deplete it for heathcare emergencies, for basicsm unless there's an economic turn-around in this region, which we're praying for," Meade says.
But what about affordable care for this population of people? "Our patients are saying that they will opt to pay the penalty, which is $95. I know it's called the Affordable Care Act, but it seems to me that it may have been hijacked by the insurance companies," Gardner adds.
Without an economic turn-around, the Health Wagon's clientele will just keep growing and growing.