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Missouri hospitals join Campaign for Coverage

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Hospitals statewide, including Cox and St. John's in Springfield, have joined a campaign to increase insurance coverage for Missourians, according to a news release from the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA).

For many people, an ear infection is a minor problem that might require a trip to the doctor. However, for approximately 755,000 Missourians, no health problem is minor because they face medical care and treatment without health insurance, MHA stated.

In fact, 14.6 percent of all Missourians and 8.8 percent of children across the state were uninsured in 1995. This lack of insurance endangers the health and well-being of the uninsured but also has far-reaching consequences, according to MHA.

It increases the price of health care for all Missourians as untreated illnesses become more severe and hospitals provide increasing levels of uncompensated care to the uninsured. In Missouri, more than $373 million of the care provided by hospitals for inpatient and emergency room care is for the uninsured, the release stated.

To protect Missourians, especially children, from the costly effects of the lack of health care, the MHA has joined the American Hospital Association to implement the Campaign for Coverage ... A Community Health Challenge.

As part of the Campaign for Coverage, MHA is encouraging member hospitals and health systems to help tackle the issue on two fronts as employers and as members of the local community. The goal of the campaign is to help reduce the number of uninsured in Missouri by 10 percent by 1999, the release stated.

"The benefits will be healthier adults and healthier children who are able to receive the kind of care and treatment they need," said Barry Seward, senior vice president at Health Midwest in Kansas City and chairman of MHA's task force on the Campaign for Coverage, in the news release.

Additionally, Missouri legislators are exploring ways to expand health coverage to more people, specifically through Medicaid waivers. These waivers would benefit almost 160,000 Missourians by increasing the amount of money a family can earn and still be eligible for Medicaid.

In particular, these efforts are aimed at providing coverage for up to 90,000 uninsured children by allowing waivers for low-income families above the poverty level. At the same time, Medicaid outreach must be implemented to provide health insurance to those who are eligible right now. Approximately 50 percent of uninsured children in Missouri currently are eligible to enroll in Medicaid.

As part of one partnership that will benefit from Missouri's Medicaid waiver, St. Louis-area health systems have formed the Access to Health Care Task Force for St. Louis 2004 to design and implement a plan for expanding health insurance coverage to families with incomes of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, MHA stated.

An estimated 142,050 uninsured people will be eligible for the program. The group currently is determining the level of benefits, eligibility criteria, enrollment processes and funding sources. The St. Louis task force also is exploring how to work with small businesses to make insurance affordable for both the employer and employee. Health system participants include BJC Health System, Sisters of Mercy Health System, SSM Health Care and Tenet Healthcare Corporation.

Freeman Health System in Joplin also is concentrating on both working within the local business community and as an employer to increase health insurance coverage.

Freeman increased the age limit for dependent coverage to 23 for its own health plan and has made tiered health coverage available to employees. It also offers the same premium contribution to all eligible employees regardless of the number of hours worked, according to MHA.

In the future, Freeman plans to give preference during trustee recruitment to those whose businesses provide health care coverage to their employees. As a community partner, the hospital contributes annually to the Community Dividend, a fund that assists health-related organizations and works with an on-site caseworker to help enroll eligible children into the Medicaid program, the release stated.

Employees at Golden Valley Memorial Hospital in Clinton are benefiting from the hospital's efforts to increase the ease of access to health insurance. When a new health plan went into effect in January 1998, the hospital chose not to increase employee costs for dependent coverage, although the new plan increased costs for the hospital by 16 percent, according to MHA.

Golden Valley also further subsidized the expense for child, spouse and family coverage. Because of these changes, and other past changes, the hospital's number of covered dependents has grown, the release said.

These hospitals and health systems are only a few of the 64 individual hospital and 12 health system participants that have committed to the Campaign for Coverage.

MHA recognized the efforts of Missouri hospitals and health systems, and their partnership in the Campaign for Coverage, during National Hospital Week, which was May 10-16.

Hospitals upheld this year's theme of "Health ... Caring ... Community" by working on their policies in addition to examining the needs of the community to help ensure the health and well-being of all Missourians, MHA stated.

The Missouri Hospital Association is a not-for-profit membership association in Jefferson City, which represents more than 150 Missouri hospitals.

In addition to representation and advocacy on behalf of its membership, the association offers continuing education programs on current health care topics and seeks to educate the public, as well as legislative representatives, about health care issues.

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