ORLANDO, Fla. – In Central Florida, some mobile clinics and federally qualified health centers are serving low-income and uninsured patients in the area. 

One such healthcare outfit, called American Muslim Community Clinics, demonstrates the capacity of grassroots organizations to reach poor and uninsured people in Central Florida. The ambitious project, which serves approximately 8,500 people in the area, highlights existing gaps in the healthcare system. 

What You Need To Know

  • Over 2.5 million non-elderly Floridians are uninsured 

  • Over 400,000 uninsured people in Florida do not qualify for ACA tax credits or Medicaid

  • There are 5 mobile clinics and over 8 federally qualified health centers in Central Florida

Before the clinic’s founding in 2017, Atif Fareed, an active member of the Longwood-based American Muslim Community Centers, saw an opportunity. 

“We’ve got a lot of doctors in the community,” said Fareed, who is a commercial pilot. “And I go, ‘hey doc, why don’t you come volunteer for us?’ and one doc just jokingly said, ‘Open up a clinic and I’ll volunteer for you.’” 

Five years later, the clinic–led by Fareed–has formed relationships with over 40 providers in the state as well as with healthcare centers such as AdventHealth-Orlando. Through its partner providers, the clinic provides free healthcare to its patients, including radiology, labwork, dental care, and optometry.

“We [also] do a lot of telemedicine,” said Fareed. “It started because of Covid, but we were shocked at how popular it was. Because now people that have to catch two buses to see us can just do it on the phone.” 

To receive treatment, patients must be uninsured, over 18 years of age, and have an income under 200% of the federal poverty line–a more expansive group than is covered by Medicaid in Florida.

Ineligible for Medicaid, but too poor for ACA

Currently, for an individual under the age of 65 to qualify for Medicaid coverage in the state, they must be pregnant, disabled, responsible for a person under the age of 18, or responsible for a disabled member of their household. For those who don’t meet the criteria for Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers tax credits for qualifying individuals purchasing health insurance on the market. 

But for people to qualify for ACA tax credits, they must earn an income of at least the federal poverty level – leaving over 400,000 in Florida eligible for neither Medicaid nor ACA assistance.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Health Insurance Estimates (SAHIE), about 14.4% of people under 65 years of age were uninsured in Central Florida (Orange, Brevard, Osceola, Flagler, Lake, Marion, Seminole, Sumter, and Volusia counties) alone. An analysis by the healthcare research group KFF found about 19 percent of people in the “coverage gap” in the U.S. live in Florida – and 97% live in southern states. 

Other states have bridged the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid, a provision of the Affordable Care Act which allows states to offer Medicaid to all adults under the age of 65 whose incomes fall within 138% of the federal poverty line. In states not adopting the Medicaid expansion, the burden of the coverage gap is disproportionately carried by people of color. 

Healthcare for homeless Floridians

Kseniya Cherepnina, who works as care coordinator for the American Muslim Community Clinics, said working with homeless clients is one of the most meaningful aspects of her job. 

“We have patients who I have been seeing for almost a year, and we have become like friends,” she said. “Like, ‘Hey, what’s up, what’s new, how is your job? Oh, you found a new job!’ We celebrate with them.” 

Many of those patients participate in the AMCC’s monthly downtown clinic. But caring for people who do not have cell phones or easy access to a computer can be tricky. 

“It’s really challenging to follow up with the homeless population,” said Cherepnina. “We are working on that.” 

Still, at their Oct. 30 clinic downtown, AMCC provided care to everyone who crossed their threshold–bandaging wounds, providing basic screenings for things like high blood pressure, and referring patients to specialists that partner with AMCC for free services. 

A patchwork of clinics

AMCC is not the only healthcare provider attempting to care for Central Floridians who fall through the gaps – Spectrum News counted at least five mobile health clinics providing basic healthcare to people who might otherwise go without. One of those clinics, run by the Seminole County Department of Health, provides basic screenings and referrals to people who might otherwise lack transportation or ability to pay for a check-up.

Connie Thomas, a longtime nurse with the county, described the clinic as “a dream come true.” 

“It serves as a screening and a referral source for people that may be pre-diabetic or have high blood pressure,” said Thomas. “To me it is like the first step to getting connected to healthcare services that can keep you well.” 

Mobile clinics, including AMCC and the Seminole County clinic, prioritize rural and poor areas of the state.