Yesterday was the kickoff for Cover the Uninsured Week 2009. Most of the patients at the Respite are uninsured. In fact, if you receive our print newsletter, you would’ve already read a story about Walter, who became homeless as a result of his wife’s bills for breast cancer treatment. (If you’d like to receive our print newsletter, email your address to respitesupport AT zoomtown DOT com).
The link between lack of health insurance and bankruptcy is clear: a 2001 Harvard study found medical bills to be a leading cause of personal bankruptcy. And even those with health insurance may find that their coverage isn’t sufficient to face major or chronic illness. Student health plans, “mini med” plans, and limited liability coverage can offer lower premiums, but seldom afford the protection needed to weather catastrophic (or even serious) illness.
In November 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported on inflated medical bills received by Jim Dawson of Merced, CA. After exceeding a $1.5 million lifetime maximum benefit on his health coverage, Dawson was slammed with $1.2 of grossly inflated medical charges. Dawson’s charges were removed after the medical center received an inquiry from the Wall Street Journal, but few of my homeless clients are lucky enough to have a major media outlet report on their behalf!
It’s a problem from any angle: the same Wall Street Journal article noted that the hospital admitted its charges were necessarily inflated to account for the 2/3 of issued charges it would never collect. And physicians’ skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs have forced some M.D.s to leave the medical world. A New Hampshire emergency physician shares this perspective.
Many of the patients at the Respite have experienced the horrors of a lack of medical care. When a medical concern arises, they typically wait until it becomes urgent to seek emergency care. Even if they do seek medical attention early, homeless patients may be forced to wait until their illness or injury becomes an emergency so that they can qualify for free or subsidized services.
Clearly, our healthcare system needs improvement. I don’t want to discount the low-cost, free, and subsidized services provided so generously in the Greater Cincinnati region. Low-cost medical and dental clinics and relief from hospital bills are services that homeless men and women rely on. Still, there is much work to be done in improving healthcare for the homeless. Cover the Uninsured Week is just one more great reason to mention it.