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“You know, I am sad that we are the wealthiest nation in the world, and we don’t take care of our own.”
- Joanne Ford, 60 Minutes

President Obama took to the podium on Monday to announce his plans for large-scale reforms to the American healthcare system. Healthcare has long been a hot button issue on Capitol Hill, but even more so for the estimated 47 million Americans who are currently uninsured, and the 25 million more who are underinsured. Obama’s plans include the establishment of a government-sponsored insurance plan – available to all Americans much like Medicare and Medicaid, as well as electronic patient record systems, and putting a stop to widespread waste and abuse in the industry.

While the promise of a more affordable option is bringing hope to millions, it may still be years before any of these changes are implemented. As the debate rages on in Washington, many citizens are facing the real, daily fear of what they will do in the event of catastrophic illness or accident. With so many living without insurance, or the ability to afford the required co-pay for even basic care, what can bridge the gap for those than need health care now?

Many in need are turning to mobile health fairs – events coordinated by churches, schools, community groups, and local businesses that bring volunteer doctors and patients together. Operating mainly in impoverished urban and rural areas, these fairs offer quality medical attention to the uninsured, under insured, and unemployed. These collaborative events provide a variety of needed services – including glucose, vision, pulmonary function, and hearing tests, as well as basic dental care and seasonal flu shots. In addition, some fairs will offer to assist patients in finding a no-cost, or low-cost, health care provider in their area for follow-up.

Mobile Health Fund – CBS News

Event organizers feel that health fairs provide a needed boost for many of these communities – supporting morale in these difficult economic times and raising awareness of healthier lifestyle choices.And as the demand for these services grow, health fairs are becoming more efficient. A weekend health fair can be the result of months of planning, site visits, and coordinating with volunteer doctors and staff – in addition to the significant follow-up tasks. Though there are several groups around the country offering similar events, one of the most successful is Remote Area Medical (RAM), founded in 1992 by former ‘Wild Kingdom’ host, Stan Brock.

The original mission of RAM was to provide medical relief and support to Latin American countries, airlifting supplies to the region from a circa-World War II airplane. In recent years, Brock recognized a startling new trend – RAM is not only focusing over 60% of its efforts on work in the US, but the events are becoming increasingly more popular and necessary. With no corporate support, RAM runs on a shoestring budget, relying on donations from individuals and community groups, and the dedication of their volunteers. But fiscal difficulties aside, RAM is responsible for providing quality health care to nearly 17,000 patients a year – a number that is rising quickly.

It is an uncomfortable question – why are we, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, unable to provide for the health of our citizens? Affordable, quality healthcare should not be a luxury for the privileged, but a basic service for everyone. Currently, this uncomfortable question is opening the door to greater discussion and awareness on this issue – discussion that will hopefully lead to better solutions in the future. But until that day comes, mobile medical fairs will continue to roll into communities, and thousands will finally be able to – at least for a day or a weekend – get proper treatment for what ails them without worrying about breaking the bank in the process.