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County looks to help uninsured

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POSTED: June 26, 2009 9:37 a.m.
Kristshon Clark, 29, says he hopes to not have to worrying about health insurance until he gets in his 40s.
“As long as you have Rite Aid and over-the-counter medicines, I’m not really concerned,” Clark said.
But no one is immune to a medical emergency, like cancer or a car accident.
“You caught me on that one,” Clark said.
As Washington grapples with $1 trillion-plus plan for universal health care, Liberty County is doing its best to look out for the uninsured and underinsured.
People know they need health insurance, but the problem is they just can’t afford it, according to Dr. Doug Skelton, director of the Coastal Health District.
“Here’s the issue, all these people when they get really sick have to be treated somewhere,” Skelton said, referencing emergency rooms’ legal obligation to treat clients.
“We’re paying more to help [sustain] those people who are not just getting care, but getting the most expensive care.”
Liberty Regional Medical Center spent $220,000 last month on indigent care.
“The problem is so serious … the local community can’t solve a national health problem,” Skelton said. “The solution has to be national.”
He said he’s for universal coverage.
Even those with insurance are struggling, according to Russ Toal, public health professor at Georgia Southern University. He explained sky-high deductions are forcing many to defer payments, postpone care and look at options.
“We see this going on all over the state,” Toal said, adding it’s at the worst he’s seen it. “It’s certainly tied to the economy going south last fall.”
Budget belt-tightening has forced employers to clamp down on company-based health insurance, Skelton said.
And many high-profile bankruptcies have been largely due to losses in providing medical care, according to Toal.
Many are left to fend for themselves when it comes to finding insurance coverage.
“Individual health insurance tends to be both pretty expense and pretty exclusive,” Toal said.
Part of national proposals is to end pre-conditions for health insurance that disqualifies many applicants.
“We’ve been on the brink before,” Skelton said of a universal health care system.
“I think President Obama has trying to explain to the American people that not doing anything doesn’t lessen the cost. Not doing anything increases the cost.”
“The only thing we know with certainty is the thing we’re doing now is completely unaffordable,” Toal said. “I think Congress will pass something and we’re in a situation that certainly something needs to be done.”
The most local agencies can do is provide as much public health service as possible and “encourage our clients to get insurance where they can get it,” according to Skelton.
Options like the Diversity Clinic help communities cope the best they can, according to new Diversity CEO Vickie Smith.
The low-cost, primary care clinic recently raised its base rate from $19 to $25 to be more inclusive and so clients don’t have to pay more for additional tests. The health professionals also advocate people trying to stay healthy.
“Prevention is always cheaper than the cure,” Toal said.
Clark feels the same.
“I take care of myself, really, make sure I’m alright,” he said.
“If there’s any possible way you can do it while you’re healthy, your premium may be lower for the rest of your life,” Skelton said.
 

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