Free Health Clinic In Rural Arkansas Is Closing Because People Now Have Coverage Under Obamacare

CREDIT: Charles Dharapak / AP

The Ninth Street Ministries Clinic, an organization that has been providing free health care for impoverished residents in rural Arkansas for the past 15 years, will close its doors at the end of its month. The clinic operators say that “the mission is complete” now that more people have gained coverage under Obamacare.

“Because people are qualifying for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, our free medical clinic will not be needed anymore,” clinic director Stacey Bowser told the Mena Star, a local outlet that covers Polk County. “We’ve gone from seeing around 300 people a month on a regular basis, but as people were enrolling in Obamacare, the numbers we were seeing have dropped.”

According to the Polk County Pulse, the faith-based clinic was a staple in the community for years. About 21 percent of the county’s residents are living in poverty, and Ninth Street Ministries Clinic worked to serve “people who have no insurance or do not have the means to acquire and maintain medical care.”

“There was such a need for many years that we would have people coming through the medical clinic from the time the doors opened early in the morning all the way until 4:00 in the afternoon,” Bowser said. But over the past several months, that changed — and the number of patients in need has dwindled to next to nothing. Only about 80 people came through the clinic in February. By March, that was down to just three people.

“Our services won’t be needed anymore, and this will conclude our mission,” she explained.

Arkansas is one of the deeply red states that worked with former Health and Human Services Secretary Katheleen Sebelius to implement Obamacare on its own terms. The GOP-controlled legislature approved an alternative to the law’s Medicaid expansion that allows low-income residents to qualify for subsidies to buy private plans on the state’s marketplace. That’s allowed about 100,000 poor residents to enroll in coverage so far. The cost of the program has stayed right on track so far, too.

In fact, Arkansas is one of five states that HHS has identified as particular success stories when it comes to Medicaid enrollment. Arkansas is using data for other government programs, like the supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP), to more easily identify additional residents who would qualify for Medicaid. Along with California, Illinois, Oregon, and West Virginia — which have also adopted this practice — it has seen a huge jump in enrollment after putting this policy into practice.

Preliminary numbers suggest that at least nine million previously uninsured Americans have gained new health coverage under Obamacare. But not every state is seeing as much success at Arkansas. The GOP-led states that continue to resist Medicaid expansion are leaving an estimated five million low-income Americans without any access to affordable insurance whatsoever.