Clinic Cares for the Uninsured–Without Government Strings

Published January 1, 2008

Dr. Alieta Eck prefers to practice medicine with as little government involvement as possible, and she sets a good example for those who are concerned about health care for the uninsured.

“We learned very early on that accepting government payment for health care for the poor was financial suicide,” said Eck, a doctor of internal medicine who has been in private practice for 20 years. “The better way to take care of the poor is to do it for free.”

Charitable Model

In 2003 Eck and her husband, John, established the Zarephath Health Center in Somerset, New Jersey. It’s a free health clinic where six doctors treat about 200 people a month. The Ecks each donate six hours a week, and the other doctors help out between two hours a week and two hours a month.

The building housing the center was donated by the Zarephath Christian Church and is on church grounds. The local community supports the clinic with monetary donations. To provide free prescription drugs to patients, the clinic purchases pharmaceuticals in bulk from wholesalers or gets samples from sales reps.

“It costs us about $10 per patient, including medicine,” Eck said. In addition, because a provision of the 1996 Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) ensures volunteers at free health clinics get free medical malpractice insurance, the clinic can recruit doctors who otherwise would have to worry about the cost.

Eck said she’d like to see clinics like the Zarephath Health Center pop up across the country. She’s had success negotiating with hospitals for reduced fees for uninsured patients’ care–typically, uninsured patients pay four to 10 times higher rates, she said. She hopes clinics will be able to take the place of insurance companies, which also negotiate prices for care.

Hilary Masell Oswald ([email protected]) writes from Denver.

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Zarephath Health Center: