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Letter to the Editor: Bridging the gap for the uninsured

Sunday, January 27, 2008

To the editor:More than 719,000 Missourians have no health insurance. Most of these uninsured Missourians are working adults without employer-sponsored health plans who cannot afford health insurance in the marketplace.

Hospitals are acutely aware of the importance of health insurance. As the safety net for health care in times of illness and emergency, hospitals are often the primary -- and sometimes only -- source of medical care for the uninsured. But substituting emergency care for insurance coverage is costly and unsustainable.

Hospitals are doing their part to bridge the gaps in coverage. In 2005, the most recent year data are available, Missouri's hospitals provided nearly one-half billion dollars in uncompensated care to their communities.

In addition, since 1991 hospital provider taxes have contributed significantly to the state's Medicaid resources. These taxes have expanded access to care for many of Missouri's most vulnerable.

However, hospitals alone cannot solve the problem of the uninsured.

The cost of the uninsured is a problem for everyone. It challenges the human health of our neighbors and co-workers who don't have adequate coverage as well as the economic health of our businesses and communities. The choices and their consequences are real.

A recent study from the American Cancer Society underscores disparities between the insured and uninsured. According to the report, the uninsured were less likely to pursue recommended screenings, and when diagnosed their cancer is more likely to have spread. The study also found uninsured cancer patients are 1.6 times more likely to die within five years as those with private insurance.

STEVEN C. BJELICH, Chief Executive Officer, Saint Francis Healthcare System, Cape Girardeau