In exciting news for low-income Utah residents, a bill setting up a program that would mirror Florida’s Volunteer Health Services in the Beehive State has passed into law. The bill, HB 186, introduced and shepherded by Rep. David Lifferth and Sen. Brian Shiozawa, was signed by Governor Gary Herbert.
Florida’s Volunteer Health Services program is one example of how innovative solutions can leverage existing medical resources to maximum effect and deliver the care needed for many of the most vulnerable in our society. Thousands of low-income Utahns lack adequate access to affordable health care, but there is no shortage of physicians, dentists, and other medical professionals ready, willing and able to donate their time to care for underserved patients. VHS helps bring the two together.
The program, established in 1992 and expanded in 2013, incentivizes doctors to volunteer their time by protecting them from abusive medical malpractice lawsuits and rewards them with required Continuing Medical Education credits for each hour of care provided. 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 free care for patients valued at more than $2.6 billion. Most importantly, it has done so not by expanding or creating more welfare programs.
In 2014, these 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 administrative costs mean that VHS provides $614 in privately donated care for every on dollar spent by the taxpayer.
The results in Florida have been an unqualified success, with 25,000 volunteers at 200 clinics in 47 different counties. Utah already has the infrastructure in place to build on Florida’s successes. Lifferth and Shiozawa’s bill has the potential to provide nearly 35,000 free appointments to low-income residents, generating almost $22 million in free care if it becomes law.