WASHINGTON -- Maria Gomez knows firsthand the devastation that can hit families who don't have health insurance.
Gomez is chief executive of Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care in Washington, D.C. The clinic serves Latinos who have no insurance or are underinsured.
The fact that 47 million people -- 9 million children -- are uninsured has been one of the top issues in the presidential campaign. Equally troubling is this statistic: The lack of health-care coverage is most acute among Hispanics and African Americans, many of whom work in low-wage jobs without benefits or are employed by small businesses that don't offer coverage
"Things are getting worse," Gomez said. "What we are seeing is a lot of people coming in who cannot qualify for government programs."
These families earn too much to qualify for free care but don't make enough to pay for their own coverage, she said.
Thirty-six percent of Hispanics are uninsured, compared with 22 percent of African Americans, 17 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 13 percent of whites, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of census data.
"I'm very excited the discussion about this has been generating a lot of attention," said Jennifer Ng'andu, associate director of health policy for the National Council of La Raza. "But now our leaders have to start thinking about how we move forward to get people access to health care."
If you have adequate health insurance and are inclined to think this issue doesn't affect you, let me assure you it does.
The cost for those with coverage is escalating in part because the number of uninsured Americans keeps rising, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit organization that advocates high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans.
Using data from the Census Bureau, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the National Center for Health Statistics, Families USA determined that the unpaid expenses for the uninsured added an average of $922 in 2005 to the premiums for employer-provided family health insurance. That extra cost could rise to $1,502 in 2010.
Increasingly, employers are shifting a larger portion of their health premiums to employees. You may be able to afford your policy today, but it's possible you may not in the future.
Since 2001, premiums for family coverage have increased 78 percent.
It may be easy to dismiss the uninsured, especially minority families, as a group of people who just want a handout or who should strive to get better-paying jobs. But these people are the workers and caregivers who provide needed services.
The people without insurance ring up your purchases at retail stores. They mow your lawns or fix your roof. They watch your children so you can work at a job with benefits.
"This is a problem for all of us. Eighty percent of people who are uninsured are working and some at more than one job. They deserve to have health-care coverage," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The foundation sponsors "Cover the Uninsured Week" (www.covertheuninsured.org), a national campaign from April 27 to May 3 to highlight the plight of people without coverage.
While Michelle Singletary welcomes comments, she cannot offer personal financial advice. Write her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
© Washington Post / Writers Group
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