Catholic medical clinic offers solution to health crisis

.- As President Obama urges Congress to pass health care reform legislation by August, a medical clinic in Madison, Wisconsin is offering a novel way to address medical needs by offering free care for the uninsured. Patients with insurance only pay a single yearly fee for their care at Our Lady of Hope Clinic.

When Drs. Michael Kloess and Anne Volk Johnson became unhappy with the medical system in which they worked, they decided to found Our Lady of Hope Clinic.  Their goal was to start a clinic where they could minister to the poor while being free to practice their Catholic faith fully.

Our Lady of Hope Clinic is “totally pro-life and totally Catholic,” developmental director Steven Karlen told CNA. “So they don’t have to dispense birth control, they don’t have to refer for sterilizations or in-vitro or abortion or anything of that nature. They can practice in complete accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The ability for doctors to freely practice their Catholic faith is currently being challenged throughout the country as lawmakers debate whether or not to exempt workers from performing abortions, prescribing contraceptives, or participating in other activities that violate their consciences.

At Our Lady of Hope, Kloess and Johnson are able to live out their faith by practicing  the corporal works of mercy and providing free care for the uninsured, particularly the “working poor,” those who are employed but do not have insurance through their jobs and cannot afford it on their own.

According to their by-laws, at least 50% of the care given at Our Lady of Hope will go to the uninsured, who can come in on a day-by-day walk-in basis and will receive no billing or other charges. 

Treatment of the uninsured is funded by the clinic’s benefactors, clients who pay a once-a-year fee to receive unlimited concierge-style primary care.  For a single person, the annual fee is about $1,200.  In the case of married couples and children discounts are given, with no additional charges after three children.

For this fee, benefactors receive unlimited access to the clinic. Whether they are coming in for a simple physical or for a condition that requires a weekly visit, there are no additional charges beyond the set annual rate.

The number of benefactors will be limited to 300 per provider in order to ensure less waiting and more access to personalized quality time with a doctor.

Karlen explained to CNA that this system benefits not only the uninsured, but also the paying clients, “particularly those who have control in purchasing their insurance.” These people, such as the self-employed or small-business owners, “can very often save money by dropping a more comprehensive plan and switching to a high deductable or catastrophic major medical sort of plan, and then using the clinic for their primary care.”

Others who just like the idea of the Catholic clinic make the contribution and become benefactors in addition to their normal insurance plans, he added.

While every benefactor must have insurance for cases outside of primary care, such as hospitalization or referrals to a specialist, Our Lady of Hope does not bill any insurance at all, Karlen continued, noting that the money that would be spent on insurance claims and billing is instead used to treat the clinic’s uninsured patients.

As they started the clinic, Drs. Kloess and Johnson found a model in St. Luke’s Family Practice, a similar organization in Modesto, California, and currently the only other full-time clinic of this type in the country.

Our Lady of Hope Clinic opened in Wisconsin on April 1 to benefactors, and on June 1, it began treating the uninsured free of charge.

Now, the clinic is working to raise awareness of what they offer and increase their number of benefactors.  Both doctors currently work part-time as volunteers, spending half the week at the clinic and the other half at their previous practices so they can make money to support their families. 

Once they have a larger base of benefactors, they will be able to work for pay full-time at Our Lady of Hope.

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