Let’s delve into the stark realities that millions of Americans encounter while seeking basic medical care. In this article, we explore the significance of Remote Area Medical’s pivotal mission and why nearly a million people have turned to RAM for medical care.

1. Uninsured and Underinsured Populations

According to the Commonwealth Fund, 44 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2020, while a 2021 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 29 percent of adults reported delaying or going without medical care due to cost in the prior year.

Even those with insurance face rising deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, often forcing them to delay or forgo essential medical services.

“For me, I can’t take money away from taking care of my kids to take care of my tooth or my glasses. And [RAM] helped that happen, so everything is okay, and I’m able to be the best me I can be.” – Hope, patient at the Knoxville, Tenn. RAM Clinic

But the obstacles go beyond just affordability.

2. Access and Availability

Geographic divides continue to influence healthcare accessibility, with rural areas facing a critical shortage of healthcare providers and specialists. Transportation becomes another hurdle, especially for those without reliable means, further limiting access to even available services.

Leanda, a patient at the Cookeville, Tennessee RAM Clinic, describes her difficulties: “I have to go to Nashville, which is two and a half hours from where I live, because you have to have a specialist when it’s colon cancer.” Accessing specialty care often requires long travel, as evident from her situation. “That surgery is not done in Cookeville or Crossville. I have to go to Nashville.”

Transportation is not just about distance but also the logistics, “and I can’t drive there right now. My leg is too infected…When I came home from the hospital, they sent me — I call it the bus — but it’s where you pay a small fee, and it’s like a city bus.” The journey is not only long but fraught with delays, “And they come get you. It’s a two-and-half-hour drive one way, and it took me eight hours to get home. You had to wait for them to pick you up in Nashville, and then, they take you to Cookeville and drop you off.”

Leanda’s experience highlights the inefficiency and the physical toll of such trips, “And you have to wait at the hub in Cookeville to get a ride to Sparta. But it was an eight-hour day, and the doctors are like, ‘You’ve got to come back here.’ And I said, ‘I understand that, but if I can’t drive?’…The last time I drove, I bruised up my whole foot, and everything was swelling up…I can’t do a five-hour, six-hour road trip, and then go wait for an hour.”

Living in a rural area often translates to limited healthcare options. A 2020 report by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health revealed that rural residents travel an average of 40.8 miles for radiation treatment compared to 15.4 miles for their urban counterparts.

This disparity reflects a broader trend: rural communities face a critical shortage of healthcare professionals, with one study estimating a deficit of 52,000 primary care physicians by 2025. The result: Delayed diagnoses, reduced preventive care, and higher mortality rates for preventable conditions in rural areas.

Many places, such as Tonopah, Nevada, have coverage, but no place to use that coverage. RAM visited there in 2023, and while more than 94 percent of residents have insurance, they are often two to three hours away from the closest doctor or dentist.

3. Social Determinants of Health

Factors like poverty, income inequality, education level, and race/ethnicity significantly impact health outcomes. Limited access to healthy food, safe housing, and quality education creates a cycle of poor health and vulnerability to chronic diseases.

“It was either choose to take care of your leg or take care of the cancer,” said Donna, a patient at our Greer, S.C. Clinic. The 36-year-old was diagnosed with stage-four cancer and venous stasis dermatitis. However, she could only afford to treat one of those diseases at a time.

“It got so bad that I got behind on my mortgage,” she said. “I mean, if I don’t take care of [my leg]…this is serious. I’m about to lose my house.”

Even seemingly routine procedures can rack up hefty bills, forcing individuals to choose between essential healthcare and other basic needs. This financial burden disproportionately impacts low-income communities and ethnic minorities, exacerbating existing health disparities.

4. Systemic Barriers

Language barriers, complex registration processes, and lack of cultural sensitivity within the healthcare system can further deter underprivileged communities from seeking care.

A 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that limited English proficiency can hinder communication with healthcare providers, leading to medication errors, misdiagnosis, and inadequate treatment.

Additionally, cultural stigmas surrounding mental health or specific illnesses can further deter individuals from seeking care.

“I haven’t done any kind of medical work since my teens, so honestly, this is a blessing,” Leonard, a 29-year-old patient from the Fort Worth, Texas Clinic said. “I didn’t see myself doing this anytime soon. If wasn’t for people volunteering like this, I’d still be in the shadows, medical wise. It’s just a blessing. Identification — I’m an eligible immigrant, so, it got me to college. Then, everything just shut down. Immigration, it came to a standstill. It just stopped everything completely. I have no form of identification, so even a regular, routine traffic stop is crippling…[Medical care], it’s not even a possibility. I’ve just got to magically wait that I make it to these clinics in time. You guys that are volunteering, you’re going above and beyond.”

RAM Bridges the Gap

Remote Area Medical steps in to address these interwoven issues by offering:

  • Free, high-quality care, filling the financial void for uninsured and underinsured individuals.
  • Pop-up clinics, bringing services directly to underserved communities, overcoming geographic barriers.
  • Volunteer network, mobilizing dedicated professionals to address provider shortages.
  • Holistic approach, addressing immediate medical needs while providing educational resources and promoting preventive care.

As we explore the challenges in our healthcare system, Remote Area Medical (RAM) shines as a source of help for those facing tough barriers to medical care. For the millions of uninsured Americans and those struggling with rising healthcare costs, RAM provides a way to access free, high-quality care.

The impact of RAM extends far beyond immediate medical interventions. By bringing care directly to communities, RAM empowers individuals to prioritize their health, seek preventive care, and manage chronic conditions more effectively. This, in turn, translates to improved health outcomes, increased productivity, and a stronger community fabric.

You can join this important mission by hosting a clinic, volunteering at a RAM clinic, or donating. Let’s work together to break down barriers, address healthcare disparities, and create a healthier future for all. Take action now — host a clinic, volunteer, or donate — to make a difference in the lives of those in need.

Join RAM in making accessible and compassionate healthcare a reality for everyone.