Close your eyes.

by Joan Ruffier
Appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on Friday, May 7, 2004

Picture a Central Floridian without health insurance.

Chances are, you immediately thought of someone unemployed.

However, in Florida, nearly one in five working adults is uninsured–and the picture is similarly bleak across the country, according to new statistics released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This trend matters because, if you’re uninsured, you are less likely to get the medical care you need, less likely to have a personal doctor, less likely to treat health problems early and twice as likely to report being in poor or fair health as compared to those who are insured, according to the RWJ report released to kick off the national Cover the Uninsured Week .

Those without health insurance come in all sizes and shapes, locations and ages, and the numbers are growing. There are 44 million uninsured Americans, including 8.5 million children. In Orange County, nearly 151,000 residents are uninsured.

Workers and employers are struggling with health care costs, and the issues affect us all. It is time to tune in. The plight of our uninsured citizens needs attention at all levels, and the best time is now.

That is why the Winter Park Health Foundation felt it important to participate in the national Cover the Uninsured Week which begins Monday (May 10.)

We’re co-hosting a simulation on Monday called “Walk in My Shoes,” designed to give local leaders the chance to experience the problems faced by uninsured Central Floridians. Then Thursday, we’re co-hosting a seminar for small businesses where they will learn how to stretch their insurance dollars and find out about new legislation that affects them.

Our hope is to offer opportunities for people to learn about these health issues.

That also is why in April we issued the policy brief “What Could a Waiver to Restructure Medicaid Mean for Florida?” It is the first of a series of educational briefs under the broad title of “Florida’s Health at Risk” that we plan to release. This one was commissioned from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

We hope to spark a thoughtful public discussion about this and other issues by publishing timely briefs.

It is easy to set these complicated issues aside, to leave them for someone else to figure out, to assume someone else is going to be able to figure them out.

But it is important to remember that we all are affected by the health of our community. If you have doubts, just think about why emergency room waits are so long. One reason is that many uninsured are forced to use emergency rooms because they can’t afford any other options.

And think about why your hospital bills are higher. One reason–a local hospital estimates uncompensated care for the uninsured adds about $1,700 to an insured patient’s average bill.

The care of all of our residents is a concern for us all. As I said earlier, it is time to tune in.

Joan Ruffier
Vice-Chair, Access to Health Care
Winter Park Health Foundation Board of Trustees