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Wednesday, March 4, 2009 02:44 am

Uninsured to get free healthcare

With medical society’s access program, doctors share the load

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Patient adviser Wanda Trice checks the admission log at the University of Chicago Hospital emergency room to look for potential candidates for the "Healthy Community Access Program."
PHOTO BY ZBIGNIEW BZDAK/MCT

At a recent healthcare forum, Dr. Janet Albers, chairman of the Sangamon County Medical Society’s community health committee, told the audience that even though the United States spent $2.1 trillion on healthcare in 2006, citizens’ overall health is not where it should be.

The reason? Because, she says, 47 million people in the U.S. are uninsured and don’t have access to the care. To combat this problem in Sangamon County, where 25,828 residents are uninsured, the Sangamon County Medical Society is following the lead of 50 other communities across the country and instituting an Access Project.

Under this initiative, uninsured residents who earn as much as $42,400 for a family of four would qualify for free healthcare. Community service agencies, such as Salvation Army or St. John’s Breadline, would help their clients fill out an application and then forward it to the Access Project office (a location is still in the works). Their information would be entered into a computer system, Albers says, and they would then be assigned to community physicians who are willing to take patients.

“The hope is by doing that in an organized way and making it equitable — that is everyone does a little — we can take care of patients who right now don’t have a place to go for care,” Albers says.

The community health committee first considered starting a free health clinic in one permanent location, but decided that Springfield already had multiple available resources. What the city really needed, Albers says, was a coordination service to connect uninsured patients with medical care.

The committee visited Access DuPage, an Access Project started in 2002 in DuPage County near Chicago. Albers and the other members saw that the project coordinates several health centers and private physicians to give uninsured patients care on a rotating basis. A free clinic, mental health and dental service components are also available as part of the DuPage program.

A free Sangamon County health clinic may be an option for the future, Albers says, but the Sangamon County Medical Society is immediately focusing on the Access Project as a simple and cost-effective means of getting patients consistent care.

“They go to the emergency room when they’re really, really sick, instead of getting their mammogram or their pap smear or their immunizations,” she explains. “They get sicker and it costs more. It’s not good care.

“We want to get them in and get them established. We want to make sure they’re getting all of the things they can to keep them healthy.”

To kick off Cover the Uninsured Week, March 22-28, Dr. Dick Endress, president of Access DuPage, will travel to Springfield March 16 for a question-and-answer session with physicians on how the project works and how many uninsured patients have been served.

For more information on local Cover the Uninsured Week events, visit www.siumed.edu/news/CTUW09events.html.

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