Who are the uninsured? All of us, says Dr. Oz

As the numbers continue to mount, the face of the uninsured gets more and complex now that there are 45.7 million uninsured people in the U.S. The TV talk show host Dr. Oz put a face on the uninsured with a recent episode focusing on the uninsured. He traveled to Houston with the help of 700 volunteers and the National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC) to run a free clinic that saw 2,000 uninsured patients in a single day. The NAFC has 1,200 free health clinics as members with six million volunteers nationwide including doctors, nurses and administrative staff.

Many of those who joined the ranks of the uninsured in the past two years were people who had good paying jobs, but lost them along with their health insurance as unemployment climbs near 10%. The largest chunk of the uninsured are working families with incomes near or slightly above the poverty line for a family of four -- $22,025. The working poor make up two-thirds of the uninsured.

COBRA, a federal law that mandates employers must continue to offer group insurance to people who lose their jobs as long as they pay for it, is often too expensive for the newly unemployed. The federal government did try to help these newly unemployed by temporarily lowering COBRA payments, but that benefit may soon be lost.As a person who joined the ranks of the insured because I could no longer afford to pay the $1,200 per month premium required by my Florida small business group insurer, I certainly can feel their pain and frustration -- as well as the fears that go with not having health insurance.

But this costly $1,200 per month plan had a $3,000 deductible and even including what insurers contributed to my care I'd never incurred more than $2,000 per year in medical costs including preventive screenings. I just couldn't justify continuing to give the insurance companies so much of my money so they could make a profit.

When you don't have health insurance you tend to put off those preventive screenings. You go to the doctor only when symptoms clearly indicate a problem and by then the actual costs of care could be so much more expensive.

Free clinics saw 4 million patients in 2008 and are on track to see 8 million in 2009, even though funding is down 20%. The clinics get little or no federal funding. Instead they are financed by foundations, grants and donations. Some of their retired volunteers have been lost though as the volunteers are forced back to work during the economic downturn.

Most of the patients going to free clinics come from working households without health insurance. About 40% of the clinics operate on a budget of less than $100,000.

So who makes up the insured, based on a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation:
  • 29% of individuals 60 to 64 were denied health insurance coverage who applied for it from individual insurers. Those that are accepted often must pay considerably higher premiums or accept a rider that eliminates some coverage for preexisting conditions.
  • 70% of adults make up the population of the U.S. but 80% of those uninsured are adults. Children can more easily get access to care through the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • 38% of young adults ages 19 to 29 are uninsured.
  • 67% of the uninsured come from families at or near the poverty line

You may be only one paycheck away from becoming one of the uninsured. Sixty percent of the population get their insurance from their employer. What will happen to your health insurance if you lose your job?

Lita Epstein has written more than 25 books including "Surviving a Layoff: A Week-By-Week Guide to Getting Your Life Back Together."
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