Uninsured Americans at Record Levels.

Karen S. Lynch

The Zephyr

December 5, 2007

 

   Public health is an applied form of social justice. The threat of disease is not primarily biological; but, largely political, social, and economic.” –Knox County Health Department.

 

   You could be one of nearly 47 million Americans who lack health insurance coverage, according to recently released statistics by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Reasons vary from the high cost of premiums to the sudden loss of a job.

   The Census Bureau released a report in August of 2006 showing the number of uninsured Americans is at a record 46.6 million in 2005 (15.9 percent), an increase of 1.3 million from the number of uninsured in 2004.

   The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based private health care policy foundation has issued a bleak study on the uninsured. According to Sara Collins, a senior program officer, “It represents an explosion of the insurance crises into those with moderate incomes.” Collins said the study illustrates more employers are dropping coverage or offering plans that are too expensive for many people. The percentage of individuals earning less than $20,000 a year rose 53 percent while those without insurance rose to 28 percent in 2005.

   About one third of visits to the emergency room are by the uninsured, a statistic that mirrors the 28 percent of uninsured also includes low-income and those who work. The total emergency room visits in 2005 at Cottage Hospital was 13,960 and 19,034 at OSF St. Mary Hospital.

   Larry Lynch, 55, Knoxville is one of the 47 million Americans who are uninsured. Lynch, recently diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive renal sarcoma, discovered after family members drove him to the emergency room in early October with severe pain. A CT scan discovered a large mass on his kidney and spleen.

   On November 2, Lynch underwent surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria to remove his left kidney, spleen, and a portion of his diaphragm to remove the eight-pound, volleyball-sized cancerous mass.

  The former owner of Carr St. Custom, Lynch lost his health insurance coverage when Gale Products closed in 1983. With a family of six to support, he slowly established a successful custom body shop business, winning many awards both locally and nationally. Custom paint jobs featured in seven popular magazines, including the cover of “Hot Rodder Magazine.”

   As the owner of a small business in Knoxville, Lynch found health insurance coverage costs to be prohibitive. He merged his business on May 1 of this year with Speed Street Custom Builds. The merger agreement held an offer of insurance coverage to the employees – an offer that never materialized. Unfortunately, the same day Lynch was leaving St. Francis hospital in Peoria, he lost his job at Speed Street Custom Builds. The Galesburg custom car and motorcycle business announced they were closing, effective immediately.

   Lynch said he had rarely been sick and had felt very healthy until recently. He did not have the normal symptoms of kidney cancer, only experiencing some heartburn and burning sensations in his abdomen. Lynch said he thought the vague symptoms were the result of stress from starting a new job. Lynch did admit he had not seen a doctor due to the lack of medical insurance coverage.

   According to statistics provided by the Knox County Health Department, one in ten (9.6%) of Knox County adults, ages 18 and over avoid visits to the doctor due to cost. Knox County residents were hospitalized a third more frequently than statewide averages in 2006, or 37% above the Illinois figure. While all age groups in the county are higher than state figures, the widest differences occur for the 45-64 and 65-74 age groups.

   In Knox County, a 2004 needs assessment data indicated 15.1% of Knox County adults report not having a health coverage plan. In July 2007, there were 10,046 Medicaid recipients residing in Knox County, 19.1% of the total population and 58% more than ten years earlier.     

   Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said, “It is sobering that 5.4 million more people lacked health insurance in 2005 than in the recession year of 2001, primarily because of the erosion of employer-based insurance.”

   Local factories, Maytag and Butler both closed their factories, leaving eligible retirees who have experienced erosion of their insurance coverage. Other major manufacturers in the area are also experiencing insurance coverage erosion. Recently John Deere based in Moline, announced changes in retiree medical coverage, including increased costs.

   Larry Lynch is just one example of the growing millions of Americans who find themselves in the unfortunate position of trying to deal with a devastating illness without health insurance coverage. Medical bills can be overwhelming, even for those who have health insurance. Lynch’s recent job loss added to his financial worries of paying household expenses, even with available charity help towards the ever-growing medical bills. Lynch is currently a patient at St. Mary’s Hospital, admitted through the emergency room last week with a serious urinary tract infection.

   While Larry Lynch is known locally for his award winning bodywork and paint jobs, he is also known for his charity. Assisting hundreds of motorist who have locked themselves out of their vehicles, Lynch often takes little if any money for his services.

   This summer Lynch was called to Woodhull to unlock a car of a Minnesota family. Lynch said when he arrived he found the family with a rather old car. “It was obvious they didn’t have much money. They had four kids dressed in pajamas. Even though it was a 30 mile round trip, I didn’t charge them a dime.” Lynch went on to explain he has had multiple calls to unlock vehicles that had babies or animals locked inside. “I never charge anything when there is a baby or a pet inside.”

   Because so many people who know Lynch have inquired how they can help, a benefit cruise is planned for April 26 at the Knox County Fairgrounds.

   A benefit bank account fund, established to help the Lynch family is now accepting donations. Checks should include the account name. Deposits can be mailed, dropped off at the bank or placed in the night deposit at the bank.

Larry Lynch Benefit Fund
Tompkins State Bank
P.O. Box 299
Knoxville, IL  61448