Affordable care on site

Paula Burch-Celentano/TULANE UNIVERSITY PHOTOGRAPH

A resource originally created to help homeless people access health care is proving its value for a wide range of local residents struggling with high medical costs and diminishing insurance coverage.

Richard Brucker, a California native and second-year medical student at Tulane University, created the Web site NolaFreeHealthCare.com and its printed companion piece as a guide to free and low-cost local clinics. The site and print version are constantly updated and provide detailed information on how to access clinic services and get steeply discounted prescriptions without insurance.

The idea came about in 2007 while Brucker and a group of classmates conducted medical outreach to homeless people encamped in Duncan Plaza near City Hall. Brucker promised one homeless man he would return with a printed list of local health care resources, and he decided to make several hundred copies to distribute to others while he was at it. The idea for the Web site evolved from there, and grew in scope.

“I decided it shouldn’t just be for homeless people,” Brucker says. “There are clinics serving many other people in much different situations, so I tried to develop it to help them as well.”

The list is intended for people serving those in need as much as it is for prospective patients. Doctors, clergy, managers and volunteers of food banks and community centers and others use the Web site and its print version to find and share information with those they serve. News of the project spread mainly by word of mouth at first, and quickly clinics began submitting their own information, helping the resource snowball in size and scale.

Similarly, interest in NolaFreeHealthCare.com has grown from many different quarters, including some of Brucker’s own medical school classmates whose parents have recently lost health insurance. The site also promotes a low-cost prescription program available at retailers such as Walmart and Target, offering 30-day supplies of more than 300 drugs for $4. A search feature on the site makes it easy to determine if a particular drug is available at the discounted rate.

While other guides are available, Brucker says they typically include scant information about costs, whereas his states the range of costs a patient can expect to pay, if any.

“That’s important, because it’s one of the things that keeps people from seeking care, not knowing what it will cost them or if they can afford it,” he says.

In March, Brucker received a Leadership Award from the American Medical Association Foundation for his outreach efforts.

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