This group helps uninsured with free outpatient surgery

In the San Francisco Bay area, providers are addressing the needs of uninsured patients by offering free outpatient surgery procedures.

Operation Access, a nonprofit organization, brings together 110 physicians, 155 nurses and techs, and 16 hospitals that volunteer their OR time, fees, pharmaceuticals, and other supplies. In 2003, the organization performed 260 cases.

Surgical teams add uninsured patients to regular surgical schedules and limit the numbers receiving services each month, or they volunteer their services on Saturdays on a quarterly basis. One advantage of adding patients to the regular schedule is the financial status of patients is disclosed only on a need-to-know basis.

The criteria for the patients, who must live in six specific counties in the area, are the procedures must be elective, income must not exceed 250% of the federal poverty level, and patients must be ineligible for government insurance programs.

"The target clients are those who do not quality for publicly funded insurance programs, but they are not offered benefits through employment and can’t afford to purchase health insurance on their own," says Mary Gregory, program director. "They are people who get stuck in the middle."

The most common procedure is hernia repair, which accounts for about 40% of the surgeries performed. Other cases include minor anorectal procedures, orthopedic cases, and head and neck surgeries, among others.

The program started in 1993 when surgeons grew concerned about patients being dropped from a hospital’s elective surgery schedule when they weren’t able to pay their required cost of the procedures. A grant was received from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ, which is now one of 20 foundations that support the group’s work, in addition to individual contributors.

[For more information, contact Operation Access, 115 Sansome St., Suite 1205, San Francisco, CA 94104. Phone: (415) 733-0052. Fax: (415) 733-0019. E-mail: Web:]