The Washington, D.C. area is one of the more affluent regions in America, yet the numbers of uninsured are swamping the capacity of networks of free clinics in suburban Virginia and Maryland.
One report shows about 54 percent of Americans who are unemployed are also uninsured. They often can't afford coverage and aren't eligible for Medicaid.
Unemployed, uninsured and unable to afford private care, the Arlington Free Clinic was Richard Templeton's only option.
"We're one of the folks that has to choose between food and medicine sometimes and that's what we've been doing lately," Templeton said.
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It's lottery day, and 45 county residents who lack health insurance and money to pay for medical care are competing for 30 openings on a cold afternoon in January.
Mary Gleason, a clinic volunteer, draws letters from a plastic box. Those holding matching letters will be ushered through the door for interviews. If they meet the clinic's criteria, they'll return in a couple of weeks to see doctors or other staff.
The lottery is just one example of the fate of the newly uninsured -- the growing numbers who once had jobs and insurance and now seek treatment with neither. Although most of the clinic's clients have low incomes, the nonprofit, privately funded operation and others like it in the region are seeing more people who used to be solidly middle-class. Victims of the deepening recession, they're now wondering where to turn for help.
Neither rich nor poor, this group doesn't readily qualify for public programs such as Medicaid but often can't afford to buy insurance or pay hospital, doctor and drug bills. The Democrats' economic stimulus package would significantly enhance options for the unemployed and their families through insurance subsidies and a possible expansion of Medicaid, a package that some experts say would ease the financial dilemma.