To help address the growing need for legal assistance for low-income individuals about the complex bureaucracy surrounding government health insurance programs, Fenwick & West*† and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County launched a new project in October 2010 aimed at increasing access to affordable health care. Working together, the partnership organized clinics to advise low-income seniors and disabled adults on how to qualify for affordable healthcare coverage. These “Share of Cost” clinics serve individuals and families in San Mateo County, Calif., whose income is slightly above the Federal Poverty Level but is insufficient to meet the expense of the medical care they need.
In California, which has the largest number of medically uninsured individuals, the likelihood of being uninsured is greater than the overall U.S. percentage at all income levels, according to the California HealthCare Foundation’s 2011 report. This includes a large percentage of low-income, employed Californians who are uninsured due to the cost of insurance relative to their incomes, lack of public subsidies, and complex rules and process for determining eligibility.
The partners expanded their efforts to assist these communities in April 2012 by including the legal department of Facebook, Inc. At each clinic, held monthly, teams of attorneys meet with 12 to 15 clients. The volunteers educate clients about the various options available for affordable healthcare. In addition, the teams assist interested clients in taking the steps necessary to navigate those programs. Since 2010, Facebook and Fenwick & West have donated 545 hours and assisted 238 clients through the clinics.
To ensure the success of the project and support the efforts of the volunteers, the partnership adopted several strategies, one of which includes offering trainings prior to each monthly clinic. Recognizing the complexity of the Medicare and Medicaid administrative systems, the training programs provide guidance for new attorney participants and refresher information to all volunteers. Generally, the volunteers find the trainings and refreshers beneficial when meeting with clients and helping the clients pursue their options. Fenwick & West and Facebook attorneys also have found assisting seniors who are unable to access assistance through federally funded legal service programs tremendously rewarding.
The partnership staffs the “Share of Cost” clinics on a monthly basis and plans to continue into the future while uninsured residents adjust to the changing healthcare laws.
* denotes Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project