Local Leaders Get Chance to Walk in the Shoes of the Uninsured

Cover the Uninsured Week–aimed at calling attention to the rising tide of Americans without health insurance–kicks off in Orlando on Monday with a “Walk in My Shoes” event designed to give community leaders a sense of what it is like to be an uninsured resident struggling to get medical care.

Participating leaders in Central Florida–where one in four lack health insurance–include Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and representatives of Orange County government and health care providers. The event is at 11 a.m. at the Orlando Downtown Marriott.

A “Walk in My Shoes” is co-sponsored by the Primary Care Access Network (PCAN) and the Winter Park Health Foundation in collaboration with Florida Hospital, Health Central and Orlando Regional Healthcare.

This Cover the Uninsured Week event will be followed by a meeting for small business leaders at 11:45 a.m. Thursday at the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce. It will be co-sponsored by the Foundation and the Chamber and will include information on ways small businesses can stretch their insurance dollars. Participants also will receive a legislative update on insurance issues.

“Cover the Uninsured Week gives us all a chance to focus the attention of citizens and leaders on the plight of the uninsured,” said Patricia Maddox, president of the Winter Park Health Foundation. Access to health care is an area of concern for the Foundation, and is the reason the group felt compelled to participate.

There are 44 million uninsured Americans, including 8.5 million children. In Orange County, nearly 151,000 residents lack insurance and 79 percent of these residents have full- or part-time jobs. Nearly 14 percent of all Orange County children do not get regular primary care because they are not covered.

Nationally, Cover the Uninsured Week is coordinated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a diverse group of national organizations. Former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are Honorary Co-Chairs. The goal is to bring national non-partisan attention to this growing problem. Hundreds of events are planned around the country.

The local “Walk in My Shoes” simulation is crafted to show participants the struggles and stumbling blocks faced by the uninsured as they seek medical treatment.

Each participant takes on a role. The participant is assigned a language, ethnicity and immigration status and is told whether he has a job, health insurance or a car. Participants have 60 minutes–a fictitious month broken into four “week-long” segments–to obtain health care for the family. In the process, participants visit a variety of stations, such as Medicaid, the hospital emergency room, a pediatrics clinic or a mental health agency. And they run into obstacles like language problems, computers going down, people losing jobs.

The participants may find out the ease of passage depends on who they are.

“It is likely to be an eye-opening experience,” said Ms. Maddox. Foundation staff participated in the “A Walk in My Shoes” simulation earlier this year at the national Grantmakers In Health conference and were so moved by the experience they decided to bring the exercise to Central Florida.

“The problems of uninsured children and adults touch us all, Maddox said. Everyone needs to get involved in seeking a long-term solution and that starts with gaining a better appreciation for the challenges facing uninsured residents.”