By Douglas H. Kirkpatrick, MD
For many Americans, health insurance provides affordable access to healthcare that allows them to prevent or lower disease risk, manage current medical conditions, and maintain overall health. But for the 47 million people in the US who are living without health insurance, attaining even the most basic care can be impossible. Every 24 minutes, someone in America dies because they are uninsured and cannot get the care they need.
In 2006, women represented more than 45% of all uninsured people in the US. Thirteen percent of all pregnant women are uninsured, and older women between ages 55 and 65 are 20% more likely to be uninsured than men. 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 entirely.
Uninsured women are less likely to receive preventive health care and screening tests, such as clinical breast exams and Pap tests, than women who have insurance. They are also more likely to receive diagnoses at more advanced disease stages and tend to receive less medical intervention once diagnosed.
With the economy in recession and some of the worst job losses seen in decades, the plight of the uninsured stands to become much worse. Fortunately, there are several online, telephone-based, and community resources that help uninsured Americans find health care, even if they have little or no money to pay for services:
The Bureau of Primary Health Care website (http://ask.hrsa.gov/pc) allows you to search for free or low-cost health care clinics by state and city.
The Insure Kids Now! website (www.insurekidsnow.gov) offers links to programs that provide low- or no-cost health insurance coverage for children and pregnant women by state.
The CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/cancercontacts/nbccedp/contacts.asp) provides free mammograms and Pap tests to uninsured, underinsured, and low-income women who qualify.
The American Academy of Dermatology’s website has a database of dermatologists by state who offer free skin cancer screenings (www.aad.org/public/exams/screenings/index.html).
Find free or low-cost eye exams through the American Academy of Ophthalmology hotline service (800-222-EYES).
Community health fairs are a great place to get free screenings, such as blood pressure and cholesterol tests. You can also check with your state and city health department to find free flu shots.
ACOG supports Cover the Uninsured Week (March 22-28, 2009). For more information on the uninsured in America, visit www.covertheuninsured.com.
Kirkpatrick is the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.