May 1-7 is Cover the Uninsured Week

Friday, May 05, 2006

When Columbia St. Mary’s sponsored a live local TV phone bank a few years ago to help those without health insurance connect with Milwaukee-area health care agencies, the volunteers were inundated with callers. “We had people calling from all walks of life,” said Eileen Jaskolski, Vice President of Mission Services for Columbia St. Mary’s. “People were in their early 20s and graduated from college, but they had no insurance. There were people ages 55 to 62, whose employer had left Milwaukee or their jobs were eliminated and they were too young for Medicare and were out of work. That phone bank really reinforced our understanding that there are huge numbers of people out there who needed help.”

Not much has improved since then. The number of uninsured Americans has grown substantially over the past decade. With the rising costs of health care outpacing people’s salaries, burdened public programs and a society that’s not saving money for retirement, more than 45 million people were without health insurance in 2004.

Last year alone, 41 percent of middle-income Americans didn’t have health insurance, up from 28 percent in 2001, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund.

  • 35.6: Percent of those age 21 to 24 that are uninsured
  • 45.5 million: Number of uninsured, non-elderly Americans in 2004
  • $1.9 trillion: How much was spent on health care in the U.S. in 2004
Uninsured, an Issue Close to Home
Locally, the story isn’t much different, said Bill Solberg, Director of Community Services at Columbia St. Mary’s. “There is an ever-increasing demand from people who can’t get health care in any other way than using free services such as those at Columbia St. Mary’s Madre Angela Dental Clinic or the Saturday Free Clinic at the CSM Family Health Center,” Solberg said. “Given the lack of access to care, without great programs like this, people will either go without help or will enter the health care system with an even more advanced illness.” Columbia St. Mary’s also offers help to the underinsured and uninsured in Ozaukee County through the Huiras Family Ozaukee Community Health Center. The clinic is open each Wednesday to provide services through a paid nurse practitioner and registered nurse and through the generosity of many physician volunteers. In 2004, the center helped 900 patients manage a variety of ailments, from diabetes and hypertension to women’s preventative health. The clinic can also offer reduced-cost or free drug prescriptions through a voucher program.


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