Healing Healthcare

Knox County Health Department makes an effort


By Karen S. Lynch


As our nation is in a financial meltdown from job losses, home foreclosures, seeing investment savings evaporating along with inflation of energy cost, food – and everything in between – everyone is concerned from Wall Street to Main Street. Rapidly rising healthcare cost is only adding to this nation’s financial crisis with increasing numbers of uninsured, underinsured – even including those who currently have a health insurance plan.

The estimated numbers will only get worse in the current economy through further job losses. An increasing number of employers are refusing to provide coverage due to their rapidly rising cost. Four out of five workers currently employed remain uninsured because insurance coverage is either not offered or premiums are unaffordable. American families earning less than $46,500 a year are most likely to have no medical insurance. Many employed workers do not buy insurance, regardless of what they earn because of cost and limited coverage for routine health care.

Cost of an employer-subsidized insurance plan are quickly becoming nearly as expensive as private health insurance plans many families cannot afford with the increasing strain of inflation on stagnant wages. The lack of affordable health care in America is enough to make everyone sick as many medical providers are now in need of life support. Medical providers cannot absorb the strain of providing the finest, technological care in the world to patients unable to pay for even routine medical care. Many providers must write off losses of services not reimbursed – often passed on to the insured – driving insurance premiums even higher and causing even more people into the uninsured column.

While Knox County and surrounding communities continue to struggle with job losses – as does most of the nation – Knox County has a champion in Galesburg. The Knox County Health Department – passed by a referendum in 1992 – held an open house last Thursday to introduce the public to a very attractive and modern-equipped facility expansion and the health care services now available.

Access to health care challenges continues to be an issue in the county. The number of individuals reporting that they had avoided a doctor’s visit or not filled a prescription medication due to cost rose in 2007; 13.5 percent and 13.2 percent respectively. This is an increase from 9.6 percent and 11.3 percent in 2004. (Of note: Maytag closed manufacturing operations in Galesburg the end of September 2004 with Butler following shortly afterwards.)

According to 2004 survey data, 15.1 percent of respondents did not have health care coverage; 9.6 percent were not able to see a health care provider during the previous twelve months due to cost of care. Many chronically ill patients take less of their medication than has been prescribed due to costs. Approximately, 73 percent of older adults who use prescription medications use more than one with 29 percent using four or more prescriptions. Knox County residents reported 11.3 percent could not fill a prescription in the past twelve months due to cost in the 2004 survey.

According to the latest Knox County Health Improvement Plan, “In January 2004, 25.7 percent of Knox County residents were receiving Medicaid: a 25.7 percent increase from ten years earlier.” Over one in seven, or 13.7 percent of residents, were unable to receive needed health care for themselves or their family due to cost. The reasons cited most often for not receiving care; 82.2 percent cite financial reasons and high cost of care; 54.8 percent state a lack of insurance and 29.6 percent are unable to afford their deductible cost.

“The access to care dilemma remains at the forefront of the minds of the health department and the entire health care community,” stated Greg Chance, Public Health Administrator for the health department. “We have heard the community voice their concerns and key community stakeholders continue to work to provide residents access to appropriate health care services.”

Knox County’s new Health Department Clinic is already seeing a reduction in emergency room visits to local hospitals, according to Chance. Over 47 million Americans nationwide lack health care insurance, causing an increase in emergency room visits for routine health care issues, or conditions made worse by lack of preventative health care by a primary provider. Currently, premiums for insured workers are rising five times faster than wages while benefits continue to shrink.

With approximately 33,706 citizens in Galesburg, according to national averages of the uninsured, Galesburg would have an estimated 5,039 citizens without health insurance. Knox County has an estimated 55,386 citizens and would have approximately 8,348 uninsured under the same assumptions, based on national averages. As our local population shrinks, every day 10,000 people in the “baby boom” generation nationally turn 60 years old.

As daunting as the problems of affordable health care awaits our newly elected President, Barack Obama, the Knox County Health Department is an example of a viable solution to routine and preventative health care. The newly expanded dental clinic now better serves community teens as well as children.

The Knox County Health Dental Clinic is the only facility in the county that serves children on Medicaid for routine dental health care, including modern X-Ray services, cleanings and filling dental cavities. Heather Frakes, a 2004 graduate of Carl Sandburg College, works as a dental hygienist in the new Knox County Health Care Clinic. Frakes is thrilled with the expanded clinic facilities and new equipment that helps make her job easier and the children-friendly décor helps put children more at ease.

The Knox County Health Department continues to serve the community through the separate clinic addition with a number of preventative health screenings for breast and cervical cancer, immunizations, STD prevention and treatment and tuberculosis screenings. In addition to well and sick child exams, the health department also offers adult wellness screening to prevent heart disease and diabetes through blood test including cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure as well as lifestyle and nutritional counseling.

Teen health care is also an interventional service in education on tobacco use, teen pregnancy, dental sealant programs, and a program called, Heart Smart for Teens covering healthy life style choices.

The Knox County Health Department also monitors food safety, water supply monitoring including wastewater, mosquito surveillance, tanning facilities, lead poisoning prevention and radon education awareness. Many other educational services are provided throughout the year.

For further information, the Knox County Health Department is located at 1361 W. Fremont St. The phone number is 344-2224 (TDD/TTY 800/526-0844) or on the web at www.knoxcountyhealth.org

While the Knox County Health Department is an invaluable resource, affordable health care intertwines with the current economic mess facing the Obama Presidency. A leading cause of bankruptcy, un-reimbursed and continuous rising medical cost is only getting worse with further job losses and rising premiums with high deductibles and decreased coverage. Someone has to pay the cost. Lives are literally at stake in finding an affordable solution.