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While her own health is "pretty good," Vicki said she suffers chronic sinus infections and hasn't had a checkup since 2007. "I have just learned to live with it," she said.
The Whites' example shows how the lack of guaranteed health care access undermines middle-class families and puts them at risk, but that many of the uninsured eventually do find coverage. Lyle White has qualified for Medicare, even if the couple must still find a plan for Vicki.
Research shows that nearly half of those who lose coverage find other health insurance in four months or less. That may be another reason the uninsured have not organized an advocacy group. At least until this recession, many have been able to fix the situation themselves.
"The uninsured are a moving target," said Cathy Schoen, a vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, a research group that studies the problems of health care costs and coverage.
But even if gaps in coverage are only temporary, they can be dangerous. "Whenever you are uninsured, you are at risk," said Schoen. "People don't plan very well when they are going to get sick or injured."
Indeed, the Institute of Medicine, which provides scientific advice to the government, has found that a lack of health insurance increases the chances of bad outcomes for people with a range of common ailments, from diabetes and high blood pressure to cancer and stroke. Uninsured patients don't get needed follow-up care, skip taking prescription medicines and put off seeking help when they develop new symptoms.
Such evidence strengthens the case for getting everybody covered right away, Schoen said. But she acknowledges the politics may get tough. "It certainly has been a concern out of our history that unorganized voices aren't heard," she said.
On the Net:
Health Care for America Now:
Institute of Medicine: http://tinyurl.com/dm8gnn
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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