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Help for Low-Income Families Without Medical Insurance

By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

As we move toward another race for the U.S. presidency, there is no more pressing domestic issue on the agenda than access to quality health care. From the White House to the state house – likely, even in your house – everyone is talking about how we can help more Americans get the health care they need.

There are many questions and debates around this issue, but one thing is clear: It’s not going away. That’s because adequate health coverage can make a huge difference in whether or not patients obtain necessary medical care, where they get their care, and ultimately, how healthy people are. While experts disagree on how many Americans lack health coverage, this much is clear: even one American without coverage is one too many.

So who are “the uninsured”? Many are living in the Southwest with more than 25 percent of Texas residents and 20 percent of New Mexico residents without health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They are largely the working poor, those for whom coverage is either unavailable or unaffordable. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, minorities are much more likely to be uninsured than white Americans, including 21 percent of African Americans. They are also children. Almost 9 million American children lacked coverage in 2005, up for the first time since 1998, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.

The consequences of reduced access to care can be serious, particularly when conditions go undetected. For example, death rates for prostate cancer are nearly two-and-a-half times higher in African-American men than white men, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Why is this? One reason suggested by the American Cancer Society is that African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed later, with more advanced cancer, which is harder to treat and is often more lethal.

Lack of adequate health insurance can also dramatically impact those with chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes. A new study featured in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that people who are uninsured receive less care and have worse outcomes following the onset of a new chronic condition than those with insurance, particularly when it comes to follow-up care.

There are two important ways existing public programs can better help low-income American families with their coverage needs. One is the 2007 reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by the U.S. Congress. SCHIP is an important health program providing quality care to more than 6 million children. Reauthorizing the SCHIP provides an important safety net to children in need. Second, efforts should be focused on enrolling all eligible seniors in Medicare Part D. Beneficiaries of the drug benefit have experienced significant savings on their medicines, with average savings of $1,200 a year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Access to prescription medicines plays a critical role in the advancement of quality care and disease prevention for the uninsured. Fortunately, there is help available now through the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA). The PPA, sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research companies, connects low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients to more than 475 public and private patient assistance programs, including more than 180 programs offered by pharmaceutical companies. In just two years, the PPA has helped more than 3.6 million Americans find programs that provide prescription medicines for free or nearly free.

While prescriptions medicines are a key component to health care coverage, there are other issues that need to be considered too. That’s why the PPA also provides information on nearly 10,000 free health care clinics and has connected nearly 85,000 patients with clinics and health care providers in their communities. Patients in need can contact PPA at www.pparx.org or by calling the toll-free phone number, 1-888-4PPA-NOW.

Thoroughly addressing the health needs of the uninsured isn’t an issue that can be addressed overnight, or without the cooperation and active participation of all stakeholders including the business community, consumers, health care leaders, labor, government, and community leaders. Working together, we can develop real-world solutions to address the health needs of the uninsured.




Supported by America's Pharmaceutical Research Companies

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