The Olympian, Olympia Washington
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
< South Sound
Cure for uninsured sought
Health Care in Crisis
With the ranks of uninsured and underinsured swelling, health care professionals said Tuesday a new approach is vital to expand access to needed care.
But finding ways to accomplish that proved elusive for the five panelists who spoke during an interfaith breakfast to about 60 church leaders and members at the Olympia Best Western Inn.
They all agreed the current stance the industry is taking toward the uninsured and underinsured isn't working.
The problem isn't going away, said Jim Dover, president and chief executive officer of Lourdes Health Network in Pasco.
"This is not something where we can turn the page in the newspaper and move on to another issue," Dover said. "We have to be a voice for the voiceless. Typically, the uninsured don't have a voice, and we have to stand up and provide that for them."
The breakfast is part of a national campaign called "Cover the Uninsured Week." The event was a chance for the interfaith community to highlight its role in providing services for those without health insurance.
The Washington Association of Churches was one of four church organizations serving as host for the event.
Nearly 11 percent of state residents and 15 percent of Americans are without health insurance, according to recent statistics from the University of Washington and U.S. Census Bureau.
Scott Kronlund, vice president of ambulatory services for Good Samaritan Community Healthcare in Puyallup, said his organization spent $9.5 million last year on uncompensated care.
He's seeing an annual increase of 7 percent to 10 percent in emergency-room visits. About half of those visits could have been treated at the doctor's office.
"For folks who are uninsured, they don't have that choice," Kronlund said.
The added expenses are forcing layoffs and reduced services at their hospitals, Dover and Kronlund said.
"It ultimately flows through the bottom line," Kronlund said. "It puts programs ... in jeopardy."
Claudia Berman, a registered nurse and associate executive director of Jewish Family Services, a social service organization in Seattle, said it's not uncommon to see recently unemployed couples lose their health insurance and respond by putting off their family's preventive care.
"I think the impacts to children when their parents are uninsured is quite significant," she said.
Dave Lewis, a member of the Baha'i faith, which values universal brotherhood and social equity, said preventive medicine, including proper nutrition and exercise, are key to stemming rising health care costs.
"If you invest in those things upfront, you can avoid 60 percent of the breakdown maintenance," he said.
The Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr., regional minister of the Northwest region's Christian Church, said a united front and a faith in God can overcome these problems.
"We do not have the right to remain silent on the issue, and anything we say can and will be used for us in the court of fairness, justice and love," he said.
Christian Hill covers Lacey and the military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at email@example.com.
©Copyright 2003, The Olympian (Olympia Washington, USA)
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