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Walgreens Offering Free Healthcare For Jobless, Uninsured

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NEW YORK — Drugstore operator Walgreen will offer free clinic visits to the unemployed and uninsured for the rest of the year, providing tests and routine treatment for minor ailments through its walk-in clinics _ though patients will still pay for precriptions.

Walgreen said patients who lose their job and health insurance after March 31 will be able to get free treatment at its in-store Take Care clinics for respiratory problems, allergies, infections and skin conditions, among other ailments. Typically those treatments cost $59 or more for patients with no insurance.

Hal Rosenbluth, chairman of the Take Care Health Systems division, described the plan as something close to an experiment: He said Walgreen isn't sure of patient demand or how much providing the services might cost the company.

It's likely to generate more attention for the clinics, however. Rosenbluth said a typical Take Care patient tells eight other people about his or her experience. So far, about 30 percent of Take Care patients were new customers to Walgreen.

The program is expected to last through the end of 2009. Walgreen runs 341 Take Care clinics in 35 markets around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Cleveland.

Free services will be offered only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Walgreen said it will not offer free checkups, vaccinations or other injections because it is focusing on providing services patients might otherwise get at an urgent-care center or even an emergency room.

Patients must present proof they are unemployed, including a federal or state unemployment determination letter and an unemployment check stub. They will have to sign a form at the clinic saying they have lost their jobs and health benefits. If they find a new job or get new health insurance, they will no longer be eligible for free care.

Spouses and children are also eligible for free services if they don't have insurance of their own.

Medical lab operator Quest Diagnostics is participating in the program by offering free tests for step throat and urinary tract infections.

Walgreen bought the Take Care clinics in May 2007. Take Care says it has seen about 1.2 million patients since its launch in November 2005 and estimates that up to 30 percent of them were uninsured.

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