Skip to main content

Half of the patients at this free, pop-up health clinic already have insurance

Dental health professionals volunteer their time at the free Seattle/King County Clinic
Enlarge Icon
Auston James with Seattle/King County Clinic

1,000 volunteers will help more than 3,000 patients at this four-day health clinic that takes over Seattle Center.

Jordan Walker is trying on a few pairs of glasses and studying himself in a handheld mirror. He likes what he sees. Walker said he’s almost blind without glasses and he hasn’t had his eyes checked in two years.

“These are kind of simple," he said. "They fit my face and complement my eyes. I have nice blue eyes. Do you like my nice blue eyes?”

Optician Mike Sherman sits across from Walker and laughs at his joke. Sherman tells Walker after they get a few measurements that Walker will be done with his appointment.

Walker is taking advantage of the Seattle/King County Clinic that’s now in its sixth year. It’s happening on the campus of Seattle Center. In previous years, it took place in KeyArena. But since the building is currently under construction, the health clinic has moved into various performance venues.

The opera house, McCaw Hall, is now a medical clinic. The Cornish Playhouse serves as a vision clinic. That’s where Walker tried on different glasses. Exhibition Hall is now a dental clinic.

The free, pop-up health clinic started on Thursday and runs through Sunday. People don’t need to show any identification and no one is asked about their immigration status. It's the biggest clinic of its kind in Washington state.

More than 100 organizations collaborate to make this happen. The City of Seattle, King County and local health care systems are the biggest players while Seattle Center coordinates all the moving pieces.

Jordan Walker, like many people here, has health insurance. But Walker’s plan does not cover vision. Walker’s glasses will be free and he can pick them up at a later date.

Rick Arnold is one of the medical directors for the clinic. Arnold said he’s always surprised by how many patients here do have insurance. About half the patients who come here have health insurance.

“It’s just really lousy insurance," Arnold said. "Their deductible is too big, their copay's too much. They don’t have dental insurance, they don’t have vision coverage. So they have to come here because they can’t get that care otherwise.”

Organizers said the bigger goal is to no longer need these kinds of clinics at all. Arnold said that for this to happen, it’s going to take political and societal change.

Why you can trust KUOW