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Free clinics are volunteer based organizations that provide health care services to low-income individuals for free or minimal cost. Communities served by a free clinic can provide ambulatory care services for uninsured individuals, reducing reliance on costly hospital admissions for ambulatory care sensitive conditions. This study examines whether free clinics in North Carolina reduce hospitalizations for ambulatory care sensitive conditions for uninsured adults.
The study used North Carolina hospital discharge data from 2003 to 2007, restricted to uninsured adults residing in North Carolina (N = 270,325). Prevention Quality Indicators identified hospitalizations for ambulatory care sensitive conditions. The entry of new free clinics in some counties during this time period in conjunction with county-level and year fixed effects allows the logistic regression analysis to simulate a pre/post study design.
Discharges for ambulatory care sensitive conditions constituted 12.6% of the sample. Despite the limited coverage provided by free clinics, which serve 5.5% of the uninsured in North Carolina, uninsured adults in counties served by a free clinic had an 8.0% reduced odds of a hospitalization being for an ambulatory care sensitive condition. When the model is limited to ambulatory care sensitive conditions related to chronic conditions, the odds of a hospitalization of an uninsured adult for an ambulatory care sensitive condition in counties served by a free clinic is reduced by 9.0%.
Free clinics are effective providers of primary care services for uninsured individuals, particularly for those with chronic conditions. To enhance this impact by increasing free clinics’ reach, state and local policy makers should support and encourage development of free clinics in high need areas.