An hour before the doors opened for the health fair at the Lantana-Lake Worth Health Center on Saturday, people were lining up, holding fliers promising free physicals, children’s immunizations and more.
But it was the opportunity to sign up for health insurance that attracted the keenest interest.
More than 70 people turned out for the annual health fair organized by Florida Atlantic University’s medical students. They found first- and second-year medical students paired up with FAU faculty doctors who volunteered their time to give free physicals and other services.
Volunteers stood by helping people not tapped into the local health system, so they could apply for coverage and find a medical home, said Dr. Joanna Drowos, the students’ faculty adviser. There were Spanish and Creole interpreters at the ready to overcome language barriers.
“We’re giving pap smears, flu vaccines, physicals, children’s immunizations, gynecological care and men’s health care,” with supplies paid for with donations from the FAU medical school foundation, and through partnerships with the state health department and the county Health Care District, Drowos said. “It’s all free.”
As dozens of people filtered in for the exams and shots, health navigators with the Palm Beach County Medical Society’s Project Access counseled patients on whether they qualified for subsidized health coverage provided through the Affordable Care Act. By mid-morning, four people had been helped to gain coverage, said Nicola Chung, Project Access’s program director.
The Affordable Care Act provides subsidized health coverage to uninsured people whose income qualifies and who aren’t undocumented immigrants.
The deadline to apply is March 31. Most people who lack health coverage by then face a penalty on their 2015 tax return of 1 percent of their income or $99, whichever is higher.
The threat of the penalty was what prompted Juliana Chamba to look for health coverage this year, the 26-year-old said. She had thought she couldn’t afford insurance, but after working with a healthcare.gov counselor over the phone, she learned in January that she qualified for a plan that cost her just $46 a month, and allowed her to see a primary care doctor for just $5 a visit.
“I’ve never had insurance before,” said Chamba, who now works in a bilingual call center for AT&T. “My experience has been really good.”
She brought her mother to Saturday’s health fair because it enabled her to see a doctor on a weekend, when she wouldn’t have to lose money taking time off work during the week.
The medical students gained at least as much as the patients, said Leah Roberts, a second-year FAU medical student who headed the student committee that organized logistics and training of volunteers for the fair.
“We’re learning what it takes to run a clinic, ordering supplies, getting the word out,” she said. “Being able to work in a hands-on way with our faculty is amazing.”
Time is running out:
Most people will be required to carry health insurance in 2014 or face a tax penalty of 1 percent of their income or $99, whichever is higher.
The last day to apply for health insurance through the program marketplaces is March 31.
Depending on factors including income, age and household size, many people will qualify for subsidized coverage. Lawfully present immigrants can use the marketplace, but undocumented immigrants cannot.
To find out more, call 1-800-318-2596 or visit www.healthcare.gov.