Everyone, it seems, has been touched by the current economic crisis in some way. Its devastating impact has been felt in thousands of homes across the Diocese of Rochester.
Coupled with the emotional and financial turmoil of losing a job often comes the sudden loss of health coverage through one’s employer. A child’s fever or skateboard accident now carries far greater weight. A cancer diagnosis could spell financial ruin in many households. Many families anticipate making hard choices at kitchen tables across the diocese.
Children often suffer the most. In fact, an August 2008 report on children’s health by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that having health insurance makes an enormous difference in whether kids receive the care they need, especially if they are chronically ill. Nationally, 41 percent of uninsured kids who have chronic health needs postpone or skip needed care, compared to 10 percent of children with chronic health needs who are enrolled in public programs. Uninsured kids also are far less likely to have had a regular checkup to keep them healthy, with 77 percent of children with insurance receiving a “well child” checkup in the past year, compared to less than half of all kids without insurance (45 percent).
It is clear that being and staying healthy is a formidable challenge when you don’t have your own doctor and the costs for preventive and routine care are too much to bear alone.
Sadly, too many Americans pay the ultimate price for lacking health insurance. Following long-term studies, The Institute of Medicine concluded that, compared to insured adults, uninsured adults have a 25 percent greater risk of premature deaths and estimated that 18,000 to 22,000 American adults die annually because they are uninsured and cannot access the medical care they need.
For those left behind, large health-care costs for uninsured low-income families can be financially disastrous. A study of bankruptcy petitioners in 2001 indicated that medical problems — an illness or injury suffered by the debtor or a family member, or substantial medical bills — were a factor in about 50 percent of all nonbusiness filings that year. In 38.4 percent of these cases, debtors who had a “major medical bankruptcy” had experienced a lapse in health-insurance coverage during the two years before filing.
For Catholics who have for centuries been called by faith to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable among us, the challenge has never been greater.
Cover the Uninsured Week (March 22-28) provides Fidelis Care, the New York state Catholic health plan, a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of the uninsured. In the Diocese of Rochester, more than 161,000 residents, including 25,000 children and teens, are uninsured. Statewide, an estimated 2.5 million New Yorkers, including 434,000 children, lack health insurance.
Most people don’t realize that almost all children under the age of 19 — regardless of income — qualify for Child Health Plus. Coverage may be free or may require a premium payment starting as low as $9 a month based on family income. Adults ages 19 to 64 also may qualify for low-cost health coverage through Family Health Plus. Those enrolled in both programs can be covered for regular checkups, emergency care, dental and eye care, prescription drugs, and more.
For one week in March, unprecedented national attention will be focused on the uninsured, and the country will learn what Fidelis Care, the largest government programs-based health plan in New York state, has always known: The human impact of living without adequate health care is profound.
This is a truth that we live and work with every day. It is why we do what we do. As a unique expression of the church’s healing ministry, Fidelis Care will continue to be a vital resource for our members and the uninsured we’ve yet to reach.
Mark L. Lane is president and CEO of Fidelis Care.