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Uninsured African Americans

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"For those that are uninsured, many of the uninsured are able-bodied, capable people capable of buying insurance but choose not to do so." George W. Bush, New York Times, November 10, 1999.

Such was Mr. Bush's compassionate response to a mother who had asked him how he planned to deal with cases like her own: single parent, works 50 hours a week, earns minimum wage, son with chronic, life threatening illness, can't afford health insurance.

While the Bush Administration focuses on war in Iraq, the cost of medical bills continues to soar. At least forty-three million Americans don't have health insurance coverage -- that's almost one in every seven people -- and the number is growing. An almost equal number are underinsured. In addition, more than 30 million Americans live in medically underserved communities. With the weak economy, even more Americans are likely to join the ranks of the uninsured as workers and employers increasingly are unable to afford medical coverage.

Not having health insurance has even more serious consequences for African-Americans, however with nearly one in five being uninsured. When African-Americans lack health insurance, they delay needed care, live with serious illness and die younger. In a study of more than 28,000 Florida patients, those without health insurance were more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and AIDS, at a later, more dangerous stage than those with insurance. All of these major health concerns can be detected early through regular screening - an option usually unavailable to the uninsured.

In January, Louis W. Sullivan, MD, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1989 to 1993 told a gathering at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a growing body of research shows a direct correlation between the uninsured and disparities in health care services and delivery. Sullivan and former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are helping to raise awareness about the plight of the uninsured and to encourage Americans to find solutions.

The American Medical Association, The National Medical Association, major insurers, and organizers, including The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a diverse group of national organizers, are hosting a year-long series of health fairs, town hall meetings, campus discussions, interfaith events and more to help people learn about the issue, find local resources and share their stories.

While the nation's leaders are focusing on war in Iraq, the health insurance crisis sits on the back burner. There is however, a wealth of information available online about how to make health insurance more affordable through group plans, and higher deductibles. The brochure, called "Coping With Medical Bills," has information about medical sharing plans in which members share most of the medical costs, and rules governing collection agencies.

A free copy of the brochure can be downloaded at www.myvesta.org. Just click on the "Health Related" area. For a printed copy, you can call (800) 680-3328, Ext. 143, for a $5 fee.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502.

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