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
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
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.