Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Health-care access problems described at forum

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Finneytown resident Laura Salter said living two years without health insurance ruined her health and her credit rating when medical bills left her bankrupt.

        Tyra Kelley of Westwood said she spent 18 months applying and reapplying for a state child health insurance program but could not get glasses for her daughter or therapy for her son.

        A legal dispute with a former employer had left Peggy Kirby of Anderson Township uninsured since 1996. This summer, an untreated ear infection turned into a severe lung infection that required a week of hospital care.

        These are some of the estimated 42.6 million uninsured people in America and an estimated 90,000 uninsured living in Hamilton County. They spoke Monday at Cincinnati City Hall as part of the first public meeting of a recently formed group called the Greater Cincinnati Healthcare Access Project.

        The group is co-sponsored by more than 10 community and advocacy organizations, including the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the Community Action Agency, Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati, the AFL-CIO and the Children's Defense Fund.

        The speakers complained about facing endless paperwork and rude case workers as they tried — and often failed — to get help from various programs. The new coalition hopes the struggles recounted Monday will help them push lawmakers to do more about the uninsured in Ohio and nationwide.

        In September, a U.S. Census report noted that the number of uninsured Americans went down in 1999 for the first time in 12 years. But much of the Midwest, including Greater Cincinnati, did not report improvement. While 35 states reported progress, Ohio and Kentucky were among 15 states where the number of uninsured people grew.

        Steve Rosenfeld, a Boston lawyer with the health care advocacy group Community Catalyst, said Massachusetts launched two medication programs for seniors as Congress argued for years about Medicare reforms.

        “Private insurance isn't doing the job. Federal programs aren't doing the job,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. “If there's going to be any help at all, it's going to have to come at the state level.”


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