As many as one-third of the nation’s uninsured qualify for public health programs and the answer to getting them insured may be as simple as educating these individuals about which health insurance programs are available to them! That should be big news for hospitals, health systems, and clinical laboratories that spend millions of dollars annually on uncompensated care for uninsured individuals each year.

About 34% of uninsured individuals qualify for public health programs but are not aware they are eligible, according to commentary from Phil Lebherz, Founder and Executive Director of the Foundation for Health Coverage Education in Modern Healthcare. These people are mostly the working poor, the elderly, and single parents of young children. But that’s not all! Another 32% of uninsured individuals-because they make enough money-could afford to purchase their own health coverage, but they are not informed enough to know the importance of health insurance. 14% of uninsured individuals are between jobs and may not know about the availability of COBRA or other programs.

Recognizing this opportunity to help uninsured obtain health coverage, some forward-thinking hospitals have teamed with non-profit organizations to utilize the Internet to explain viable options for health care to such individuals. The Foundation for Health Coverage Education was one of the first to reach out to hospitals to get them to help promote health insurance education online. Their site, coverageforall.org, gives consumers the opportunity to answer a 5-question quiz to figure out which health insurance options are available to them based on their state of residency. The data from the quiz can be re-used to start the enrollment process should the individual completing it want to enroll in a health insurance program.

For every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, another 1.1 million individuals become uninsured. The work of the Foundation for Health Coverage Education demonstrates that simple programs to educate uninsured patients have the potential to generate major benefits, and reduce the number of Americans who lack health insurance.

Finally, 34% (approximately 15 million) of the nation’s 45 million uninsured individuals qualify for the federal Medicaid program. Why are state and federal efforts to educate and enroll such people in these social safety net health programs failing to reach so many individuals? Could it be that, because of budget squeezes and spending fears, that our elected officials and program bureaucrats have huge financial and political disincentives to be more successful at identifying the insured and bringing them into such health programs as Medicaid? That certainly is a dimension to solving the nation’s uninsured problem that gets little attention by the intellectual class and the national media.

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Educating the uninsured