Medical Device Daily Washington Editor

WASHINGTON – With the release of a national poll that seems to show strong support for improved U.S. health coverage, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF; Princeton, New Jersey) kicked off its “Cover the Uninsured Week.”

The poll found that 73% of registered voters are concerned about losing their own healthcare coverage. Those polled also said that improving access to affordable health insurance and coverage should be a priority for President George Bush and Congress.

When asked what the government’s focus should be in addition to terrorism, national security and Iraq, the top issue for voters surveyed was Social Security/Medicare at 27%, followed by access to affordable health insurance and coverage at 24%. Jobs and the economy were third at 23%.

“Poll after poll shows that the American people want our leaders to make affordable and stable health coverage for all Americans a top priority,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of RWJF. “The situation is truly puzzling. Despite popular support for action on health coverage, our leaders have yet to truly focus on solving this problem.”

Throughout the week, health fairs will be held in various U.S. cities to provide free medical screenings and information to those without insurance. Volunteers will help enroll uninsured adults and children in public programs that provide free or low-cost coverage to those who are eligible. State-specific guides aimed at helping individuals find out about local health coverage options will be distributed at events.

Also released as part of Cover the Uninsured Week was a new analysis of government data showing that millions of uninsured adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic illness and have medical needs that are unmet.

Though perhaps the results seem intuitive, the report breaks down this population of patients by common chronic illnesses as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease.

About 45% of non-elderly, uninsured adults report having one or more chronic health problems, according to the report. More than 15 million uninsured adults in the U.S. have diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or other chronic conditions, the report said.

The analysis documents that millions of chronically ill adults forgo medical care or prescription drugs due to cost, leaving them at serious risk for increased health problems.

The report uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Atlanta), and is derived from an analysis of the 2003 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the most recent available. NHIS examines health status, access to care, use of healthcare services, and economic and social characteristics.

According to the report, many uninsured adults with chronic illness do not have a usual source of healthcare, and uninsured adults with chronic conditions were more than seven times as likely as insured adults with chronic conditions to lack a usual source of healthcare.

In addition, despite fewer contacts with the healthcare system, uninsured adults with chronic conditions still face large out-of-pocket expenditures for their care. More than one in five uninsured adults with a chronic condition reported spending at least $2,000 out of pocket on medical care in the 12 months prior to the survey, which was conducted in March.

The report was prepared for RWJF by researchers at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and the Urban Institute (Washington).