Ohio Bill Embraces Private Charity to Help Medically Underserved Poor

There is some exciting news for low-income Ohioans: Representative Robert Sprague and Senator Peggy Lehner have each introduced a bill into the legislature that would bring Florida’s Volunteer Health Services (VHS) program to the Buckeye State.

VHS is a great example of an innovative solution to the problem of access to quality health care; it utilizes existing medical resources to deliver vital care to many of the most vulnerable in society. Thousands of low-income Ohioans lack adequate access to affordable health care, even though there are many physicians, dentists, and other medical professionals ready and willing donate their time – VHS bridges the gap.

The program incentivizes doctors to volunteer by rewarding them with required Continuing Medical Education credits for each hour of care provided, while also protecting them from abusive medical malpractice lawsuits. Under the program, medical professionals offer free care to uninsured patients below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or patients eligible for Medicaid under state law.

By unleashing the power of private charity, the Sunshine State has been able to secure more than $2.6 billion in free care. Most importantly, it has done so without expanding or creating more welfare programs.

In 2014, Florida medical professionals provided nearly 470,000 free visits, with the value of donated goods and services totaling nearly $298 million. The program’s low legal costs (malpractice suits are virtually nonexistent) and minimal administrative costs mean that VHS provides $614 in privately donated care for every one dollar spent by the taxpayer. The results in Florida have been incredible, with 25,000 volunteers at 200 clinics in 47 different counties.

Ohio already has the infrastructure in place to build on Florida’s success. If the legislation filed by Representative Sprague and Senator Lehner becomes law, it has the potential to provide 100,000 low-income residents with over $60 million in free care each year. Passage of this sensible legislation should be a top priority in the fight to help the truly needy among us.