AAFP president: Don't minimize the problem of uninsured Americans

LETTER — Posted May 23, 2005

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Regarding "Uninsured a hard problem to grasp, solve" (Article, April 25): For the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to pronounce that the number of uninsured may be only 9 million, when nearly all experts agree that the figure is at least 45 million and growing, does a great disservice to the American people.

No, the problem of the uninsured is not hard to grasp. Family physicians encounter it every day when patients come in with an advanced condition that could have been treated earlier or even prevented if they only had insurance cards. And we're seeing more and more people who are underinsured with extremely high co-pays and deductibles they simply cannot afford.

We provide care regardless of ability to pay. But for too many Americans, the lack of affordable health insurance is truly a matter of life and death.

The department's effort to study the uninsured population is commendable, but only if they are serious about real solutions. Whether a person is uninsured because they can't afford an insurance premium or because they simply aren't offered coverage in the first place does not change the fact that everyone needs to be covered for our system to work more efficiently and compassionately.

If they truly want to understand the problem, I would advise the department to take a close look at a new study by Todd Gilmer, PhD, and Richard Kronick, PhD, that shows the clear relationship between rising insurance premiums and the number of uninsured, projecting the number to grow to 56 million by 2013.

America's family physicians have put a bold plan on the table that would ensure coverage for all. It is time for action. Having public officials sow confusion about numbers and minimize the problem does nothing to help us solve it.

Mary E. Frank, MD, president, American Academy of Family Physicians, Mill Valley, Calif.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2005/05/23/edlt0523.htm.

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