ROANOKE, Va. -

The law is meant to give insurance to the uninsured, something Free Clinics across the country have done for decades.

Now that the law is in place, are Free Clinics in danger or even necessary?

"Sadly, we're not worried about going out of business," Linda Wilkinson, CEO of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics said.

"Regardless of what decision comes out, we'll still have patients," Helen Ferguson with the Rescue Mission said.

At a joint conference at Hotel Roanoke, the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics and the Virginia Rural Health Association are learning to adapt.

"We're trying to understand it so we can best inform the patients," said Wilkinson.

"It's been more of an issue for the staff to figure out how we will direct people and what advice we can give them as things happen," Ferguson said.

Free Clinics have always been a safety net for the uninsured; Virginia's clinics serve around 75,000 patients at the nearly 60 clinics statewide.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, the landscape of health care for the uninsured is changing.

Even though the law requires the uninsured to get insurance, Free Clinics say the safety net can't go away.

"It is a common misconception, but it's understandable. Because you think that if every body has insurance then there's no need for a free and charitable clinic," Wilkinson said.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act is also one of the reasons Free Clinics think they're going to stay open: Not everyone is eligible to receive health care through the exchanges.

The most common exemptions Free Clinics expect are: 

  • The very poor, like the homeless, who can't afford any premium.
  • Those who qualify for a religious exemption.
  • Those who work for a company or corporation that's exempted from the part of the law which requires employers to provide insurance.

Nationwide, that could make the demand for Free Clinics even greater now that the law has taken effect.

But regardless of what happens as the Affordable Care Act continues to take shape or whether the commonwealth expands Medicaid, Free Clinics know they'll be ready.

"So our clinic is just ready to adapt to whatever the new need may be," Ferguson said.

One of the other major topics discussed at the conference is the impact of a possible Medicaid expansion.

The Virginia Association of Free Clinics supports expansion, but it's still too early to tell if it'll actually happen in the state.