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College members help highlight plight of the uninsured

From the April ACP Observer, copyright 2003 by the American College of Physicians.

By Jason van Steenburgh

College members across the country last month held press conferences, met with a U.S. senator and a former state governor, and rallied at medical school campuses to help focus attention on the plight of the country's uninsured.

The efforts were part of Cover the Uninsured Week, a campaign sponsored by a diverse coalition of groups that included the College, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the U.S Chamber of Commerce and the WK Kellogg Foundation. The campaign ran from March 10 to 16.


Dr. Walker explains to reporters how lack of insurance can be a serious health risk.


At a March 12 media briefing held at Temple University Children's Medical Center in Philadelphia, Sara E. Walker, MACP, then-President of the College, described the clinical effects that a lack of insurance can produce. "Lack of health insurance is not just an inconvenience," she said, "it's a serious health risk. Uninsured Americans live sicker and die younger."

Dr. Walker explained that the uninsured are more likely to spend more time in the emergency room and the hospital and experience poor medical outcomes.

Shortly before the week-long campaign began, consumer advocacy group Families USA released a study that found 75 million Americans went without health insurance at some point in the past two years. More than half—65%—went without insurance for at least six months, and 24% went without coverage for the entire two years.

To hammer home the message that the United States needs to do more to improve access, College chapters sent representatives to town hall meetings in Atlanta; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Helena, Mont.; New York and several other locations.

One high-profile town meeting took place in Sioux Falls, S.D. Richard P. Holm, FACP, a member of the South Dakota Chapter's health and public policy committee, participated in a press conference and panel discussion on the uninsured with Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sioux Falls Mayor Dave Munson.

College members also took part in medical campus events in cities across the country. Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland, Ore., hosted one of the most influential meetings. Over the past few years, Oregon has introduced several legislative efforts aimed at boosting universal coverage.

The state's former governor, John Kitzhaber, MD, led a panel discussion that included prominent advocates for the uninsured such as James B. Reuler, FACP, a former Governor for the College's Oregon Chapter and founder of the Wallace Medical Concern, an organization that runs free clinics in the state. Karen Whitaker, director of Oregon's office of rural health, was also on the panel.

The College distributed literature at the event that included information on ACP's seven-year plan to achieve universal coverage, as well as white papers showing how the lack of insurance affects women and Hispanics.

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