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A free clinic is a medical facility offering community healthcare on a free or very low-cost basis in countries with marginal or no universal health care. Care is generally provided in these clinics to persons who have lower or limited income and no health insurance, including persons who are not eligible for US Medicaid or Medicare programs. In the US, almost all free clinics provide care for acute, non-emergent conditions. Many also provide a full range of primary care (including preventive care) and care for chronic conditions. Some free clinics include licensed pharmacies and dental services.
The modern notion of a free clinic began in the 1960s in San Francisco when Dr. David Smith founded the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics in 1967  during the summer of love in the Haight Ashbury district. Free clinics quickly spread to other California cities and the rest of the United States. In 1972 a meeting was held at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC where clinic staff from around the country gathered and listened to speakers including Dr. Smith. At this meeting the slogan “Health Care is a Right Not a Privilege” emerged as a theme.
During the 1970s and 80s free clinics continued to evolve and change to meet the needs of their individual communities, however some were unable to survive. Each free clinic was unique in its development and services, based on the particular needs and resources of the local community. There is a saying among free clinic organizations that, if you have been to one free clinic, you have been to all free clinics. The common denominator is that care is made possible through the service of volunteers, the donation of goods and community support. Funding is generally donated on the local level and there is little —if any— government funding. Some free clinics were established to provide medical services in the inner cities while others opened in the suburbs and many student-run free clinics have emerged that serve the under-served as well as provide a medical training site for students in the health professions.
While both free and community clinics provide many similar services, free clinics today are defined by the US National Association of Free Clinics as “safety-net health care organizations that utilize a volunteer/staff model to provide a range of medical, dental, pharmacy, vision and/or behavioral health services to economically disadvantaged individuals. Such clinics are 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations, or operate as a program component or affiliate of a 501(c)(3) organization.” Some free clinics rival local government health departments in size and scope of service with multi-million dollar budgets, specialized clinics and numerous locations.
- National Association of Free Clinics
- Volunteers in Medicine
- Haight Ashbury Free Clinics
- The Students' Health And Welfare Centres Organisation, a University of Cape Town student-run organisation offering free clinics in Cape Town, South Africa
- Berkeley Free Clinic, a nonprofit clinic in Berkeley, California
- The Suitcase Clinic, a student run free clinic in Berkeley, California
- University of Kentucky Salvation Army Clinic, a student-run free clinic
- UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project, a student-run free clinic in San Diego, California
- Tzu Chi, a Taiwanese-based Buddhist organization with free clinics in California
- Gary Burnstein Community Health Clinic, a non profit, volunteer supported Free Clinic in Pontiac, Michigan
- Seymour, Richard (1987). The Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinics: Still free after all these years, 1967-1987. San Francisco, California: Partisan Press.
- NAFC. "What is a Free or Charitable Clinic?". Retrieved 25 February 2013.