"Almost 13 percent of Clay County residents are without health insurance," Rich Johansen, St. Vincent Clay Hospital CEO, said.
A slow economy, higher unemployment and rising health costs mean that more Clay Countians are becoming uninsured. Eight out of 10 of the uninsured are in working families that can't afford health insurance and aren't eligible for public programs. While 85 percent of employees nationwide offered health insurance 20 years ago, only 62 percent do now. The problem is accelerating this year, with 465 Americans expected to lose their health insurance every two hours.
"We certainly need to raise awareness of the issues surrounding the uninsured. Employers understand how important it is to have a healthy workforce, and health coverage is economic security for working families," said Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Spiraling healthcare costs that lead to rising employee premiums, or to companies dropping health coverage altogether, are taking a tangible toll on America's middle class.
Cost-shifting -- raising costs to hospitals due to overuse of emergency rooms by the uninsured -- are passed on to those who have insurance. Therefore, premiums increase, forcing more onto the uninsured rolls. The increase in one percentage point in hospital costs is linked to a loss of coverage for at least 300,000 people.
"It's a big problem that's getting bigger. It's becoming threatening to us all. Unfortunately, being uninsured in America is a very common and very risky experience. By not having health insurance, even for a short period of time, the uninsured are forced to put their physical and financial health in jeopardy," Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourney, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said.
Medical studies show that there are serious consequences when uninsured people delay medical treatment and preventative screenings. Uninsured women with breast cancer are twice as likely to die as women with breast cancer who have health insurance. Men without health insurance are nearly 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer at a later, more dangerous stage than men with insurance.
"Because people without health insurance live sicker and die younger than their insured counterparts, having health insurance can literally mean life or death for some people," John J. Sweeney, president of AFL-CIO, said.
Remedies being examined by lawmakers include a plan by U.S. Sen. John Breaux (D.-La.) to insure everyone, including the poor and elderly, through a central system featuring subsidies for those who can't afford premiums, another plan to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, another to expand Medicaid and President George W. Bush's tax credit proposal to help people pay for their insurance premiums.
The result of a unique partnership of diverse national organizations, "Cover the Uninsured Week" is co-sponsored by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.
To increase awareness of the plight of the uninsured, organizers are planning health fairs, town hall meetings, campus activities, discussions between business and labor leaders, community-wide interfaith prayer breakfasts and more to help people learn about the issue, begin reasoned and constructive discussions about solutions and find local resources.
Clay County Health Improvement Coalition met for the first time earlier this month. According to Johansen, the volunteer group will discuss strengths and weaknesses of the local healthcare system at it's next meeting and devise a plan for improvement. Implementation of that plan, including covering the uninsured, should begin within the next couple of months he said.