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Programs planned in communities around Mississippi

Affordable healthcare on agenda for 'Cover the Uninsured Week'

Seventeen Mississippi cites are planning events for “Cover the Uninsured Week” May 10-16, as part of a nationwide program that will include more than 1,000 community activities such as health fairs, workshops for small business owners and educational forums.

Workshops are being planned by some 40 groups around the state, each with a different focus, according to KC Grist, program manager for the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program (MHAP).

“Hospital groups will work with hospitals, for example,” Grist said. “MHAP is focusing on business.”

Workshops for the Mississippi business community will be held in Southaven, Tupelo, Greenville, Meridian and Gulfport,

“We’re planning these business round table discussions to highlight the challenges that employers and employees face when trying to access affordable healthcare plans,” Grist said. “Our premise is that in America, insurance is largely furnished by the individual, the employer or the government. So, what can we do?”

MHAP is working with communities and local organizations in planning the workshops which, Grist hopes, will typically include a small employer who wants to provide coverage for employees but can`t because it`s too expensive; an employee who isn`t covered but wants to be; a representative from the insurance industry and someone from Medicaid.

MHAP, founded in 1992 by the Sisters of Mercy Health System, is a state-wide, nonprofit public interest advocacy organization. KC Grist worked in the advocacy field for some 20 years before joining MHAP as program manager earlier this year.

There are now nearly 44 million Americans living without health insurance, including 8.5 children.

In Mississippi, nearly 16% of the people have no healthcare coverage and 20% of the state`s children aren`t covered, according to a December 2003 survey by the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. Some eight out of 10 of these people are employed.

In this survey, commissioned by Healthy Futures, a collaboration of MHAP, the AARP, the American Heart Association and the Children`s Defense Fund, the Stennis Institute reports that:

• 78% of the respondents favored guaranteed health insurance coverage for every Mississippian and 74% would pay higher taxes for this to occur.

• 92% wanted long-term, affordable healthcare for seniors and 70% said that they would pay higher taxes for this to occur.

• 86% favored a state funded plan to lower prescription drug costs for all residents of Mississippi.

State partners for “Cover the Uninsured Week” include Delta Health Partners, Mississippi Hospital Association, Mississippi Nurses Association, Mississippi State Medical Association, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Business Journal, Mississippi Health Advocacy Program and Covering Kids Healthwise Coalition.

Additional sponsors are hospitals and medical centers in Cleveland, Greenville, Belzoni, Amory, Greenwood, Natchez, Meridian and Laurel.

The Mississippi cities that are planning events during “Cover the Uninsured Week” include Amory, Belzoni, Charleston, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Greenville, Greenwood, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Indianola, Jackson, Laurel, Marks, Meridian, Natchez, Starkville and Tupelo.

Nationally, “Cover the Uninsured Week” is co-chaired by former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Noah Wyle, star of the TV show, “ER,” is the national spokesperson.

Backed by an ideologically diverse coalition, the week-long program is organized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and sponsored by the California Endowment, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Missouri Foundation for Health, the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, the United Hospital Fund of New York, 18 national partners and more than 800 national and local organizations.

“Tens of millions of Americans, most them working, do not have health coverage of any kind,” Wyle said. “Most of them put off going to the doctor when they need to, just because they can`t afford the care that

the rest of us take for granted.”

“I’ve spent the last decade playing the role of a doctor on a program that depicts the plight of uninsured people who arrive in a Chicago emergency room, seeking medical care they can find nowhere else.”

Wyle added that he was proud to join former Presidents Ford and Carter in this effort to let all Americans know that they can make a difference.

“Noah Wyle understands that the struggles portrayed each week on ‘ER’ are inspired by the dramas that unfold daily in American hospitals,” according to Dr. C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States. “Every day, in ERs from coast to coast, physicians and nurses see uninsured patients who have put off life-saving care because they can`t afford it. Unfortunately, the cost of delaying care is often devastating to their health and sometimes fatal.”

Along with Dr. Koop, a group of former U.S. Surgeons General and former U.S. Secretaries of Health and Human Services from Republican and Democratic administrations have pledged their support.

During April, future doctors, nurses and dentists, along with university administrators and faculties, organized events on campus across the country to express their support for providing healthcare coverage for all Americans and for “Cover the Uninsured Week.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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