A Publication of WTVP

The percentage of adults and children in the United States without health insurance coverage has risen dramatically in the past five years. Most often, patients lack coverage because they work more than one part-time job, have been laid off or are widowed or divorced.

Thirteen percent of families living in Peoria County do not have health insurance coverage. In 2008, the Heart of Illinois United Way (HOIUW) invested more than $1.17 million in local health programs, and over the course of the 2009 fiscal year, more than $1.22 million will be invested in these programs that provide direct health services, health education and prevention support. These programs include health and safety services, community clinics, exercise and therapy, emergency response, information and referral, home healthcare, substance abuse prevention and treatment, dental services, and visual services.

How do the uninsured affect our community? According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, between the years 2000 and 2005, the percentage of employers unable to provide health insurance coverage to their employees rose nine percent. In 2001, the Census Bureau reported 41.2 million Americans were uninsured, and that number is expected to continue to rise significantly with increases in unemployment rates and reductions to Medicaid. Annually, it is estimated that uninsured individuals generate $9.7 to $11.6 billion in inpatient healthcare costs and $1.2 to $1.4 billion in outpatient healthcare costs.

According to the HOIUW’s Community Assessment, residents in our six-county region have an average life expectancy of 78 years, one year longer than the average in the rest of the nation. The leading causes of death for people in the Peoria area are heart disease and stroke, cancer, and accidental deaths.

The Community Assessment also helped direct funding to a variety of area healthcare programs, such as Resource Link at Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, which assists children with mental health concerns; the Healthy Classroom Initiative at the Hult Health Education Center, which provides resources to schools for health instruction; and the Youth Fitness Outreach at the Greater Peoria Family YMCA, which deals with weight management, exercise and nutrition for youth.

Recent studies by the Center for Disease Control point to associations between oral infections—primarily gum infections—and diabetes; heart disease; stroke; and preterm, low-weight births. In 2005, with funding from the United Way, Heartland Community Health Clinic began providing dental care for clinic patients. Primarily treating individuals aged 18 to 34, participants receive exams, x-rays, extractions, fillings and much more. Each patient is pre-screened and taught the importance of maintaining oral health.

In the long term, patients who put off seeking healthcare because they cannot afford the expense often face illnesses that are much more difficult—and more expensive—to treat. Every day, United Way agencies throughout central Illinois are helping those in need of healthcare lead healthier and safer lives by preventing health deterioration and promoting healthy lifestyle choices. IBI