A Publication of WTVP

Film star Ingrid Bergman once said happiness was good health and a bad memory. While that’s true for most of us, there are those in our community who are at risk of having quality health care become just that-a memory.

Without the assistance of the multitude of health care programs offered by our local social service agencies, many individuals would be unable to secure the medications, health screenings, and education they need to maintain health lifestyles.

Every day, various agencies help those in need through clinics, home health care, disease management, emergency response services, nutritional meals, and substance abuse prevention.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2001 there were 41.2 million Americans without health insurance. Of these, 19 million were working full-time and another 5 million were working part-time. These numbers include 8.5 million children whose parents have delayed or skipped needed medical care because they didn’t know how to pay for it.

How do the uninsured affect our community? According the American Hospital Association, the amount of health care costs not covered by insurance and delivered by nonfederal hospitals grew from $6.1 billion to $20.7 billion from 1983 to 1999. In 2001, more than 2.2 million people lost health coverage due to increased unemployment. As the economy continues to slow, more and more people will find themselves without health insurance.

The number of uninsured Americans is also being compounded by the double-digit increases employers have been faced with in offering health insurance. With premiums on the rise, some employers have had to either decrease the level of coverage they can offer, or more likely, they’ve had to ask employees to make larger contributions towards the premium. This leaves many lower-waged individuals and employees of smaller businesses lacking the coverage they need or can afford.

Being uninsured affects all ages. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated 3.2 million older adults between the ages of 55 and 64 lack health coverage because they’re self-employed, widowed, or lack retiree health coverage, making this age group the fastest growing subset of uninsured Americans. This is also the same group that has medical expenditures that can be almost twice that of those in the 35 to 44 age bracket.

So what are the consequences of individuals without health insurance? In the long term, patients put off seeking care because they can’t afford the expenses, and this ultimately leads to illnesses that are more difficult-and more expensive-to treat.

Patients without health insurance come from every race, age, and ethnic background, with children representing almost 25 percent of the uninsured. This July, Gov. Blagojevich signed a bill for KidCare and FamilyCare that will expand health insurance coverage for low-income children and their families-just one step on the way to making our communities healthy. IBI