• Governor to talk health insurance, page 10

By Jim Goodson


Governor Rick Perry says he wants more Texans to have health insurance. That would be good news to many Cherokee County residents. A knowledgeable estimate this past week was that 47 percent of the county’s residents have no health insurance.

“Even that might be low,” R.N. Shirley Reese said Monday. “The further south you go, the more poverty you find. Down around Alto and Wells, there are few people who have health insurance.”

Reese heads a consortium of health care volunteers and low-cost providers who help bridge the gap between those few who qualify for the state’s indigent care program - the very poorest of the poor - and those who have health insurance.

That’s almost half the county’s population.

“Many working people do not have health insurance,” she adds.

Reese and HOPE Center Director Fran Daniel started Partners in Health, who matches people needing health care with health care providers who are willing to lower their charges. One thing she stresses, however, is that except for the truly indigent, nothing is free.

“There is a great misconception that emergency room care is free if you can’t afford it,” Reese said. “Unfortunately, many of the people without health insurance look at the emergency room as their best alternative for free or low-cost care. But that is a fallacy. If you go to the emergency room you are going to get a bill.”

The better option, she says, is for individuals without health insurance to establish a relationship with a physician so they can receive annual checkups. Prevention is far better both medically and economically that waiting until an emergency condition has arrived and going to the emergency room.

“Just about all our physicians and clinics will work with individuals to set up payment systems that are affordable,” Reese said. “We (Partners in Health) can help you establish a relationship with a participating physician.”

It is always better to have a primary physician, Reese said.

“The problem with depending upon the emergency room is that you are probably going to see a different doctor every time you visit, which means he or she will have to order new (and more expensive) tests and lab visits for every trio to the ER,” Reese said.

“It is actually much more expensive to rely upon the emergency room than a primary physician.”

Partners in Health also works with pharmaceutical companies that provide free and low cost drugs available to people without health insurance. “We know how to handle the paperwork and we can help people get the prescriptions they need,” Reese said.

At one point about 600 people here were participating in the Partners in Health drug prescription program, but Medicare Plan D, which offers a similar program, cut that number to about 150, Reese said.

“But people have found that with Medicare Plan D they still must meet co-pay requirements and certain deductibles,” Reese said. “Now, many are coming back to us for help. The only charge we have is $5 for the postage for three months worth of prescriptions.”

HOPE Center Director Fran Phillips, whose estimate of 47 percent of uncovered county residents was made before the Jacksonville Rotary Club last week, described Medicare Plan D as a “Greek tragedy” to club members.

Civic organizations here also help people bridge the gap. The Jacksonville Kiwanis Club, for example, helps fund dental expenses for children identified by school nurses as needing dental care. The Jacksonville Lions Club has a long history of providing eyeglasses for people with sight problems.

Reese had nothing but praise for the Jacksonville medical community.

“Our two hospitals have been wonderful in trying to help people through a confusing, frustrating and difficult time,” she said. “The physicians here work with us to make health care as effective as possible.

“But there is no denying there are serious problems with the system.”

Reese said she was disappointed to learn that the budget President Bush is proposing makes even deeper cuts in health and human services. And Governor Perry’s plan to mandate immunizations for teen-age girls to prevent cervical cancer also makes no mention of who is to pay for the shots.

“I understand he said health insurance companies will likely cover the costs,” Reese said. “But what about the other half of our county that doesn’t have health insurance. How will they pay for it?”

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