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Chat about the uninsured with Nikki King

June 18, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Nikki King

More than 12,000 people living in Douglas County don't have health insurance. It's a number that has skyrocketed in the past decade regionally and nationally. Nikki King executive director of Health Care Access will chat Monday about who makes up the uninsured population in Douglas County.

Moderator:

Hi folks! I'm Joel Mathis, managing editor for convergence, and I'm moderating today's chat. Nikki is here and ready to take your questions.

Nikki King:

Thank you for having me here today to speak about the work of the Health Care Access Clinic.

Moderator:

Nikki: First please remind us what Health Care Access does - and what your client trends have been in recent years?

Nikki King:

The Clinic was started in 1988 to provide medical care to the low-income poor of Douglas County who were without health coverage, private or govermental.

Nikki King:

We provide care to individuals with acute conditions as well as chronic diseases - all to help keep them healthy and able-bodied citizens contributing to our society and not relying on the emergency room for their health care.

Nikki King:

We have seen an increase in chronic conditions over the past several years (diabetes, hypertension) and many more cancer cases. We try to keep our overhead expenses low with modest salaries and facilities and maximize our ability to serve the growing uninsured population.

Nikki King:

Last year we saw a 14% increase in the number of patients served and are projecting at least a 12% increase this year.

Moderator:

What percentage of your clientele is working poor -- that is, they have jobs, but don't have health insurance or other funds to pay for care?

Nikki King:

Last analysis showed over 75% of our patients were employed. Only 3% are homeless. Everyone else is unemployed and/or between jobs from what we can tell.

Moderator:

You say you've seen growing numbers of uninsured. Is that because Lawrence is growing, or because the uninsured are growing as a portion of the city's population?

Nikki King:

We of course encourage everyone eligible for other insurance programs (Healthwave, Medicaid, etc) to take advantage of those. The clinic does not try to take the place or compete from with private or public programs but rather tries to fill the gaps between the two.

Nikki King:

Since I started in 1998, the percentage of uninsured of Dg Co has grown 4%. We keep tracking these numbers of course hoping less people need our services, but so far that hasn't happened.

Moderator:

We have a question about emergency care.

orlysud:

Lawrence should have a non-for-profit hospital where the uninsured could go in case of an emergency. I am one of those uninsured individuals, Desiree Stephenson (who was in the Sunday article) that prays that I never have to go to the emergency room as I could never afford it.

When one is sick and needs to urgently go to Health Care Access, a call for an appointment as to be made, as long as it's between Monday and Friday from 8:30am till 4:30pm. What happens if we need to go to the ER after hours? I think that Lawrence Memorial Hospital should also accept the uninsured in the ER, without charging them. If they have compassion like they say they do, they should be able to waive charges for those who are currently going to Health Care Access. But LMH is a "for-profit" hospital.

I have a job and still cannot afford health insurance plus all the medication that I have to take on a monthly basis, let alone having to be monitored due to my chronic auto-immune disease.

I am unable to join your live chat tomorrow as I work. So, I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

Thank you.

Desiree Stephenson

Nikki King:

LMH is very generous in serving anyone who comes to their doors, as well as providing tests and services for our patients to facilitate the most comprehensive care available. We are not staffed 24 hours a day, but LMH's emergency department is and they will do what they can to help someone get the immediate help they need and recommend they follow-up with an appropriate resource the next day for ongoing care (such as our Clinic, the Leo Center, or private provider). The hospitalist at LMH are volunteers for our Clinic (along with 150+ others in the medical community) and they generously agreed to advise on any of our patients admitted or for critical lab results received after hours.

Moderator:

You said earlier that your client rolls grew 14 percent last year and may jump another 12 percent this year. You've tried to keep costs low, but how can you afford to keep up with such growth rates?

Nikki King:

LMH is a non-profit hospital, by the way, and last year alone wrote off over $2 million in services for our patients!

Nikki King:

We are fortunate to be located where many people volunteer and contribute dollars to our work. The Clinic received roughly $178,000 worth of medical volunteers' time last year and almost $1million in free medicine from pharmaceutical companies' programs (up 33% from 2005). The uninsured issue is gaining more attention and more people want to help find the solution. Until there is a true alternative, safety net clinics are the answer to this hole.

Moderator:

Is there any sign that the rates of uninsured people will stabilize, or do you expect to continue seeing double-digit growth rates in those ranks?

Nikki King:

So far there is no indication the rates will slow in growth. I applaud what the Kansas Health Policy Authority is trying to do to find broader solutions for Kansas, but those proposals will take time. See www.covertheuninsured.org for national statistics and see patient stories to further understand the uninsured issue. We all know someone currently or has been in the past uninsured - no one wants to be, but stretching one's dollars to meet all needs is getting more difficult. The founders of the Clinic (www.healthcareaccess.org) never expected to see the agency still around, let alone growing so much nearly 20 years later.

Moderator:

We know that the population is aging -- and with that, there's a rise in some chronic illnesses. Is that a double-whammy for an organization like yours?

Nikki King:

In 2006 we saw nearly 13% under the age of 21 (which has been growing), but children usually don't have chronic illnesses. The remaining population of the clinic are primarily experiencing multiple illnesses, and most time chronic in nature. I am nervous that the severity of their conditions will continue to place a high demand on our services, volunteer providers and the hospital.

Moderator:

Your agency serves only people from Douglas County. Do you sense that we're better, worse or the same as other counties across the state and nation?

Nikki King:

We are much better than most thanks to the heavy involvement from our medical community (a value untouched from our peers across the State), our ability to find free medicine through pharmaceutical company programs (individuals can search themselves at www.rxassist.com), and generous donors who help keep our lights on. We hope that other communities model us and draw from individuals rather than always looking to the local or federal government to solve the problem. The Health Care Access Clinic has helped over 12,000 people over our history with countless appointments and the actual cost we keep to an average of $360 for a year's worth of care. Our $10 requested fee makes us affordable and no one has a reason not to get health care in our community.

Moderator:

What else should we know today? How can people take advantage of your service? How can they support your efforts?

Nikki King:

Our website lists our eligibility requirements of income, Dg Co resident and no other coverage (www.healthcareaccess.org). We welcome folks to drop by to visit, ask questions, and see if we can help them at 1920 Moodie Road (one block west of 19th & Haskell Street). We welcome donations and volunteers of any skill set to help with our daily operation. Our phone number is 841-5760 if interested or fill out information on our website. I leave today wishing everyone in Douglas County gets the health care they need and moves towards an ability to focus on prevention of the next illness. We want our community members healthy and work toward health coverage so we are not needed. Until the gap is filled, we will do our best to serve this group.

Moderator:

Thanks for joining us!

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