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Posted at 4:45 PM ET, 07/23/2010

Doubt Obamacare? Take a drive to Wise County

By Peter Galuszka

If you're a Washingtonian who doesn't understand why health-care reform is necessary, why not take a weekend trip? Jump in your car and drive southwest 400 miles for a little more than seven hours to Wise, Va., in the heart of the Southwest Virginia coalfields.

At the Wise County fairgrounds, doctors, dentists, nurses and other health-care professionals from the surrounding area will be offering free checkups, outpatient treatment, eyeglasses and dental care to the mountain country poor, many of whom earn minimum wage, are not eligible for Medicaid and can't afford regular health insurance.

The free health event has been organized in the area for the past 11 years by British-born adventurer Stan Brock, a former anaconda wrestler who started the nonprofit Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. "It does help people who have fallen through the cracks," Frank Kilgore, a social activist and lawyer in nearby St. Paul, told me.

About 3,000 people show up each year for the event, which begins today and runs through Sunday.

They are the core of the Central Appalachian poor, who have worked at Wal-Mart, farmed rocky soil and survived the boom and bust cycle of coal mines. Folks from southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky go to the Wise event. Besides the economic challenges, the up-and-down topography of the region can make a trip to the doctor's office a multi-hour event.

The question is whether so-called Obamacare, which is now law, will make the free health clinic unnecessary. The law is designed to help provide 32 million uninsured Americans with health insurance, in part by requiring everyone to obtain insurance or face a penalty. Low-income people like those who use the Wise clinic will have exchanges available to provide competing plans and subsidies to help pay for them, providing they meet certain income guidelines.

It will take at least a few years to see if the goals of reform can be achieved. Meanwhile, Kilgore says other strategies afoot in the region are to open a medical school in Southwest Virginia that will specialize in training the family and rural practice physicians desperately needed in remote areas like Wise County.

Kilgore is hopeful the medical school approach will further turn things around. "It's pathetic that one of the world's richest countries has this sort of thing going on," he told me.

No argument there.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | July 23, 2010; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia, development, disability pay, economy, education, energy, environment, health care, public health, schools, transportation  
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Health care (transformation) is one of the best issues this current administration has done thus far. With this change individuals will have the opportunity to seek professional and quality health care services. Who would want to return to the days of the horse and buggy, b/w tv sets, manual typewriters, pac man, you get the point? That's about how old the health care system was in the USA. Each day the news is filled with social tragedies in which lives are taken at the hands of known acquaintences and/or family members. Our society is stricken with the institutions of white collar crime permeating throughout this great nation and greed which tends to strike at the very fabric of our country. If you are looking for affordable health insurance check out . I hope everyone will soon recognize and use the resources made by this transformation to seek professional medical attention as the need arises rather than turning to illegal and criminal activities to resolve their issues.

Posted by: brownhall24 | July 24, 2010 3:20 AM | Report abuse

yeah it is true most of us can save money on our car insurance by making few simple changes find how much you can save

Posted by: brownhall24 | July 24, 2010 5:11 AM | Report abuse

The simplest and most direct way to provide basic health care to all Americans is to set up government-owned clinics modeled after the V.A. health care system -- or even based on the military sick call model, where you are seen by a medic for most routine matters, and only see an M.D. if your case is beyond the medic's ability to cure.

But no. Instead we get a Republican-style plan that increases revenue for Blue Double Cross and their equally corrupt "competitors" and keeps ladling money into the coffers of Columbia/HCA and other fraudsters.


Posted by: roblimo | July 24, 2010 6:56 AM | Report abuse

"It's pathetic that one of the world's richest countries has this sort of thing going on,"

Yes it truly is pathetic. And without the Democrats, and President Obama we wouldn't have the prospect of improving the situation. I hear so many complaints - a constant drone of complaints about this president - but if you cut through all the partisian biases and just look at the content of his intiatives, the average American is the winner. It's just too easy for too many to get caught up in the bull crap and propaganda - that many don't see that this president is turning the tide to the benefit of the average american.

As a newly designated "uninsurable" person, I can't tell you how relieved I am to know that if I lose my job and my health care that I will be able to obtain insurance.

What we really need is the public option. It would cover more and reduce the deficit. Of course the republicans won't support it - because it would cover everyone and reduce the deficit. They can't allow that type of benefit for the drones, nor could they allow the cost savings - it wouldn't be politically beneficial for them.

Posted by: JilliB | July 24, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Wise County Virginia is an area rich in coal. Unfortunately the residents were robbed of their mineral rights. The wealth from this county now flows into the coffers of the rich coal operators and into the treasury of the State of Va. The churches and the GOP control the thinking so no progress can be made. This area is a model for what the GOP and the corporations want for the rest of the country. A starving labor force that will work for food and not complain.

Posted by: hilow | July 27, 2010 6:26 AM | Report abuse

A medical school is a great idea. My daughter is in college studying biology with an eye to becoming a pediatrician some day. She did a little internship at a low-income, rural clinic in PA and loved it. If she makes it through med school, she'd like to spend some time working in rural Virginia. I think there are probably a lot of other kids out there that feel the same way and would be more than happy to contribute to work in the community if it is made possible.

Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | July 27, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Health insurance must be free and cover pets. To oppose this is racist.

Posted by: jiji1 | July 27, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

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