Uninsured area residents standing in line for hours in 90-plus temperatures Thursday waiting to see a doctor at the Prince William Area Free Clinic in Manassas expressed little confidence the newly-upheld Affordable Care Act will bring affordable coverage their way.
"It's not going to drive the cost down," said one woman who asked not to be identified. "It's not helpful if the people can't afford it."
Another woman who asked not to be named said the mandate to buy health insurance would not help her. "I can't buy it because I have no job, so I can't buy it anyway," she said.
The Prince William Area Free Clinic is for residents who do not have health insurance. The Free Clinic is open to residents of Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County and is income-based. Eligible residents must be in line by 3:30 p.m. to get a ticket and some reported waiting to 10 p.m. to see a doctor.
Some people standing in line Thursday had been waiting for well over an hour when they were turned away because there were no more tickets available.
"I can't be seen next week either because of the holiday," said one woman.
The Affordable Care Act, which was designed to prohibit insurers from denying health insurance coverage based on pre-existing conditions, among other things, didn't sit well with one woman waiting in line. Another part of the law was designed to create exchanges so individuals and families not eligible for government or employer-sponsored health insurance plans may purchase coverage at more affordable rates, but some expressed skepticism about it.
"I don't like that they mandate coverage," said one woman with a pre-existing condition. "The premiums are higher for me, like $1,950 a month."
One man standing in line who had just moved to Virginia from North Carolina said he opted out of getting coverage for him and his wife through his employer because it was going to cost nearly $700 a month.
"It's just too expensive," he said. "They [the employer] don't put in as much as they used to. They keep cutting their contribution and making you pay a greater portion."
Manassas and Manassas Park have More Uninsured
The percent of uninsured adults ages 18 to 64 nationwide, is about 9 percent according to data on the U.S. Census Bureau's Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE) program.
According to a County Health Rankings & Roadmaps study, the Virginia uninsured rate for 2012 is 14 percent. By comparison, Prince William County was cited at a lower than average 13 percent; while Manassas and Manassas Park were marked at 18 and 20 percent, respectively.
By the same token, unemployment rates for 2012 as issued by the report were also higher in Manassas and Manassas Park.
Manassas has a 7.5 unemployment rate and Manassas City, a 6.1 unemployment rate. Prince William County was again lower than the Virginia average of 6.9 percent at 5.8 percent.
The clinic has several locations in Prince William County:
- Woodbridge, 4001 Prince William Pkwy., Suite 101 on Tuesday evenings. A lottery system is used for appointments and numbers are given out starting at 3:30 p.m.
- St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, 13900 Church Hill Dr., on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Patients need appointments to see the doctor, but some walk-ins are accommodated
- St. Paul United Methodist Church, 1400 G St., Open on the third Thursday of every month after 6 p.m.
- Manassas, 9301 Lee Ave. Clinic opens at 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Patients are served on a first-come, first-served basis.
The clinics include primary care, women’s health screenings for cervical cancer, mammograms, mental health, medication access, diagnostic testing, diabetes education classes and dental services.
Local Officials Weigh In
Sentara health care CEO Dave Bernd released a statement Thursday regarding the healthcare ruling. Sentara manages the former Potomac Hospital, now called Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.
"It’s difficult to predict the far reaching results of today’s ruling. But what the U.S. Supreme Court decision doesn’t change is our strategic direction. Sentara is well positioned for the ripples of this decision because of our vision and strength as an integrated system," said Bernd in the prepared statement.
“The Supreme Court ruling will benefit low-income and uninsured families in our community who deserve access to affordable health care,” said Frank J. Principi, executive director of the Greater Prince William Community Health Center and Woodbridge district supervisor. “It provides assurance that our Health Center and community health centers across the country will continue to expand services for the growing numbers of people with few or no other health care options. The Court’s decision is an historic step forward in solving our community’s and our nation’s health care crisis.”
The center provided affordable access to integrated and coordinated health care for 9,000 residents in 2011 and has served nearly 30,000 patients since its doors opened in November 2007, said a release from the center.
"Many families served by the Health Center are low-income or uninsured, including families dealing with the loss of jobs and/or health care benefits during the recession. Recent studies suggest that more than 18,000 Prince William County residents between the ages of 18 and 64 are uninsured," said the release.
“The silver lining in the Supreme Court’s decision is the fact that states do not have to participate in the expansion of Medicaid and can do so without fear of losing federal funding for existing Medicaid recipients,” said chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors Corey Stewart in a statement Thursday. “A significant growth in Medicaid will have a crippling effect on the Commonwealth’s budget and will also cause a great burden to the counties and cities that administer the Medicaid program. Health care costs are currently consuming a majority of new state revenue, and further increases would take much needed dollars away from our state budget.”
"There are a myriad of reasons,” said Manassas Park councilman Preston Banks concerning the high uninsured rate of residents. “But what we can do at the local level is to seek to improve our community and the quality of life for all residents."
Manassas Patch editor Jamie Rogers contributed to this report.