Even With Obamacare, Free Clinics Fill Big Gaps. Here's One Funder Who Knows That

Even with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), lots of people will continue to fall through the cracks of the U.S. health insurance system, including undocumented immigrants and low-income people who can't get Medicaid but don't have insurance through a health exchange—or have coverage with high out-of-pocket costs they can't afford. 

That's why free and charitable clinics remain so important. But the ACA has created a lot of jitters among these clinics, which worry that funders might think they're no longer needed. 

Not only is the Chicago-based VNA Foundation funding free clinic programs, but it is also empowering free clinics to effectively advocate for the ailing poor. This fact made the Chicago-based funder stand out in a crowd of over a thousand small foundation grantmakers at this year’s Exponent Philanthropy Conference.

VNA has described its support for free charitable clinics as follows:

To date, healthcare reform has not considered the needs of free and charitable clinics or their ongoing role as the safety net provider, yet we know that there will be people who continue to rely on these clinics for healthcare even after the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. Illinois Medicaid cuts will further increase the need for free and charitable clinics, as struggling families lose access to services that were once reimbursed.

An initial VNA Foundation grant of $13,865 helped to revive the Illinois Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. More recently in 2013, the funder provided another $75,000 to implement initiatives and continue building infrastructure. For the 2013 fiscal year, this was one of the largest grants that the VNA Foundation made. VNA also gave the Association an additional $5,000 to contract with a grant writer so that the Consulting Executive Director could focus on other time critical activities.

Since that initial VNA grant, the Illinois Association of Free and Charitable Clinics has captured the attention and financial support of major philanthropic players, like BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois and the Chicago Community Trust.

VNA is a grantmaker that doesn’t shy away from front-end funding. Although VNA stopped providing direct services to transform itself into a private, independent foundation in the mid 1990s, its dedication to providing care hasn’t changed over the years. Other VNA grants focus on home health care services, community and school based services, primary care, and chronic disease management. The foundation’s current special initiatives are Supporting Illinois Free and Charitable Clinics, the Anne M. Davis Mobile Health Award, and the Women Veterans Health Project.

With so many people in Chicago living below the poverty line, free clinics need all the support they can get but are often left out in the cold. With less than $50 million in assets, the VNA Foundation is showing other small funders how huge of an impact that targeted and timely grants can really have.

To learn more about VNA’s support for health nonprofits and free clinics in the Chicago area, check out IP’s profile of the VNA Foundation: Chicago Grants