Students protest for nationwide health insurance

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Medical students, faculty and administrators around the country will hold demonstrations, panels and classroom discussions in the first week of May to draw attention to a growing epidemic of Americans living without health insurance of any kind.

Initially chaired by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, “Cover the Uninsured Week” will be the biggest nonpartisan effort in history to raise awareness about the issue.

The number of uninsured Americans grew in 2003 by 1.4 million to 45 million, about 15.2 percent of Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the figures, about 8 million children and a larger contingent of young adults are uninsured.

“Particularly as the future health care professionals, [students] have a vested interest in ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality health care,” said Dr. Brian Palmer, president of the American Medical Student Association.

As part of a separate effort, students in Palmer’s organization are lobbying legislators in Congress and 25 state capitals to address the growing number of uninsured Americans.

“We’re unlikely to see an immediate federal solution in the near future, but state solutions are really starting to move around the country,” Palmer said.

Palmer attributed the growing numbers of uninsured to the federal budget deficit, which he said is forcing states to slash their own budgets as they receive less aid from Washington.

“We’ve seen a shrinking of state support for the state-based health programs” such as Medicaid, he said. “The other major factor is that health care costs continue to rise at double-digit rates, so employers are faced with greater health care expenses that are causing them to drop employees from their health care coverage.”

Palmer added that 80 percent of the 45 million uninsured are employed, and an additional 85 million Americans periodically lose health care as their employers change providers.

“The crisis of uninsurance is a crisis among working folks,” he said. According to Palmer, health care costs are becoming the number one concern in labor negotiations.

While “Cover the Uninsured Week” aims to draw public attention to the issue, the initiatives that Palmer’s group pushes vary widely and depend on political realities in different states.

“By experimenting with lots of different models, we’re able to best determine what will work,” Palmer said.

Uninsured Americans delay necessary medical care, according to studies cited by the group. Uninsured women with breast cancer have a 30 to 50 percent higher risk of dying than women with health insurance, and the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine estimated that 18,000 adults in America die each year because they are uninsured.

“Providing affordable, consistent care for uninsured patients is not taught in any medical textbooks,” Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a statement. “These are patients who may not be able to fill the prescription that will keep them healthy, or make a crucial appointment with a medical specialist.” “Cover the Uninsured Week” has also received endorsements from several former high-level health officials. Noah Wyle of the television series “ER” is the campaign’s national spokesman.

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