Guest column: Helping those without insurance (3/4/10)

Helping those without insurance

March 4, 2010

By Dr. Gerald F. Joseph Jr.

What do you do when you think you have the flu, strain your back or come down with an ear infection? If you are one of the fortunate Americans who have health insurance, you might schedule an appointment with your doctor, go in for an exam, pay a small co-pay and leave with care instructions or prescription medication to help you feel better. But for more than 46 million Americans without insurance, getting medical attention is not so easy.

Uninsured families face numerous hurdles in receiving adequate care, such as finding doctors who accept uninsured patients, long waits for care and expensive medical bills. Many families opt to skip medical treatment altogether, try to stay healthy and hope for the best. But that doesn’t always work. An uninsured American dies every 24 minutes because he or she could not get the necessary care.

Anyone can lose insurance — rich, poor, married, single, employed and unemployed of every race in every part of the country. Women are especially vulnerable to becoming uninsured. More than 45 percent of all uninsured people in the United States are women, including 13 percent of all pregnant women.

Women are more likely to be dependents, making them susceptible to losing health insurance due to divorce, becoming widowed or because their spouse’s company increases premiums or drops family coverage. Uninsured women are less likely to receive clinical breast exams, Pap tests and other preventive health care and screening tests than insured women. They are also more likely to be diagnosed later and receive less treatment once diagnosed.

Resources to help uninsured Americans find health care are available, even if they have little or no money to pay for services. They include the following:

> State resources for finding insurance –

> Free or low-cost health care clinics by state –

> Programs that provide low- or no-cost medical and dental insurance coverage for children and pregnant women by state –

> Free mammograms and Pap tests for uninsured, underinsured and low-income women who qualify –

> Listing of dermatologists by state who offer free skin cancer screenings –

> Free or low-cost eye exams – 1-800-222-EYES

You can also check community health fairs for free screenings, such as blood pressure and cholesterol tests. And try contacting your local health departments to find free flu shots.


Dr. Gerald F. Joseph Jr. is president of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.