Reprinted from September, 2020 Newsletter of the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics
By Randy Jordan, CEO
Recent reporting from NC Medicaid suggests that Medicaid enrollment is climbing in North Carolina and COVID-19 may be responsible. We are seeing something similar in NCAFCC’s free and charitable clinic members during COVID-19. One of the requirements of NCAFCC’s recent state appropriation is to collect data on the number of new patients seen at our clinics during the pandemic. We now have 5 months of reporting from March-July, 2020. Our clinics (57) have seen a total of 56,951 patients during this period. Of that number, 6,927 or 12% were reported as new patients. To annualize this number similar to the way that NC Medicaid reports on Medicaid enrollment, new patients represent an 8.5% annual increase over the 82,300 unduplicated patients that were seen at free and charitable clinics during 2019. This is an astounding number of new patients in a short 5-month window. While our data doesn’t go so far to establish precise causation, it is a reasonable assumption that newly unemployed and, therefore, newly uninsured North Carolinians are, in part responsible for the increase.
The number of uninsured patients at free clinics has always been one of the “canaries in the coal mine” on the status of North Carolina’s insurance coverage rates. Prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there were approximately 1.5 million uninsured in North Carolina. Until last year, that number decreased to 1.1 million according to the Kaiser Family Foundation as NC residents purchased individual ACA coverage. We remain hopeful that the efforts of Care4Carolina’s and others in closing the coverage gap will lower that number even further. However, the Kaiser Family Foundation is now reporting that in 2019 there were 1.3 million uninsured in our state. The data from NC Medicaid combined with NCAFCC’s on new patients suggests that the uninsured rate is climbing even higher during COVID-19. We’re proud of the contribution that NC’s free and charitable clinics are making in providing healthcare to those who have not yet been blessed with health insurance.