Noah Wyle Gives Urgent Care To Health Insurance
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
During eight seasons playing the dedicated Dr. John
Carter on ER, actor Noah Wyle has dealt with innumerable healthcare crises.
Off screen, Wyle says the real emergency is getting all Americans health insurance.
"About 41 million Americans don't have health insurance," Wyle says. "Over
8 million are children. Seven million people are uninsured in California alone
where we're seeing more hospital closures than any other state in union."
And the problem may be far worse.
A study just released last week indicates that as many as 75 million Americans
were uninsured at some point during 2001 or 2002. To raise awareness about this
health insurance crisis, Wyle is helping promote Cover the Uninsured Week
which runs March 10-16 and was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
and 140 other national organizations.
"I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to go through the recent
birth of my child without health insurance, without prenatal care," Wyle states.
"When my wife got pregnant, she and I became instant students and advocates
of new approaches for delivering a child into the world - a lot of it had to
do with avoiding as much medical intervention as possible. But what little we
did have was absolutely necessary and would have been damn near impossible without
"This problem particularly affects single parents and part-time workers where
there's been a shift by employers to not provide insurance," says Neal Baer,
a physician and executive producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
"But this is increasingly a problem facing the middle class not just the working
"Often times people are afraid to get care because they're afraid of the financial
costs," Baer adds. "People lose their homes. I think medical bills are the second
most common reason cited for filing personal bankruptcy in the United States."
"I have great health insurance and I'm still reticent to go to the doctor,"
Wyle says. "I can only imagine how many people who have to ask, 'Do I want heat
or do I want to get this checked out? Do I want to feed my kids or do I want
to get my prescription filled?' They'll wait to the last possible second and
something that was extremely treatable at its outset has become a major health
issue because of neglect."
Real health costs
In fact, studies show that uninsured patients often wait far too long before
"So they become more ill which then causes them to require more care and that's
more expensive," says Baer, who began as a fourth year medical student and completed
his residency while working on ER. "People without insurance also tend
not to get good preventive care so patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes
really face some serious problems. For instance, African-American men with diabetes
have a much higher rate of amputation than any other group. I think the reason
is because they don't get good care when they need it. They just don't have
Additional fallout caused by lacking insurance includes:
- Uninsured women with breast cancer are twice as likely to die as women
with breast cancer who have coverage.
- Men without health insurance are nearly 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed
at a late stage for colon cancer as men with insurance.
"The system needs fundamental change because we aren't spending our money wisely,"
says Dr. Arthur L. Kellermann, professor and chair of emergency medicine at
Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta. "If you're uninsured and have
diabetes and you're not getting decent medical care so your kidneys are failing,
we're going to step back until your kidneys shut down and then, 'Congratulations,
you qualify for dialysis.' It would have been a hell of a lot cheaper and more
humane to provide a decent level of medical care and adequate insulin so the
patient never needed to lose their kidneys in the first place."
As the demographics grow, so does the problem of caring for the uninsured.
Many experts argue that as emergency rooms increasingly are flooded by the uninsured
seeking primary care, the economic and social costs will be staggering.
According to Kellermann, we're conservatively paying as much as 38 billion
dollars just for care of the uninsured. Eighty-five percent of that is coming
from public sources.
"When people tell me can't afford to deal with this problem, I tell them we
can't afford not to," says Kellermann, co-chair of the committee that just issued
an Institutes of Medicine report entitled A Shared Destiny: Community Effects
"We cite compelling evidence that the financial strain of treating people without
health insurance can hurt the viability of local governments and local healthcare
providers," Kellermann states. "This can in turn produce spillover effects across
the community including reduced access to emergency services and trauma care,
loss of access to specialists and reduced availability of key hospital-based
services. These effects can compromise access to healthcare community-wide and
can ultimately damage a community's economy."
As the ranks of the uninsured grow, predictions are more and more hospitals
and trauma centers will buckle under the financial strain.
"We're required by Federal law to care for anyone in need who comes through
the door day or night without regard for their ability to pay," Kellermann says.
"We actually already have universal access to healthcare in America. It's called,
'Go to the ER.' But it is a completely unfunded mandate that is not supportable."
Of particular concern to Kellermann is that the IOM report found that despite
September 11 and Homeland Security, our trauma system and our emergency medical
system have been "completely ignored."
"It's dumbfounding," Kellermann states. "Understandably we are concerned about
bio-terrorism but the last two big events in the world involved bombings. That
requires an intact emergency medical service system and an intact trauma care
system. It is precisely the area of our healthcare system that our report revealed
has been most directly and severely affected by the growing toll of the uninsured."
And if you think insuring everyone isn't your concern because you and your
family are covered, Kellermann says think again.
"You can be covered but that doesn't help you if you're in the back of an ambulance
suffering from chest pain and you hear the paramedic get diverted to the third
hospital, or there's no neurosurgeon on call, or the trauma center in your community
is closing because it's hemorrhaging financially," Kellermann adds. "You do
have interest here - there's a selfish as well as compassionate interest in
this issue. Sooner or later we're all in the same boat when it comes to healthcare."
Wyle is maintaining a proactive attitude.
"I see a wonderful opportunity here to capitalize on this growing groundswell
of understanding that health insurance should be a #1 priority going into the
next national election," Wyle says. "If you can't treat your child's diabetes
-- if you can't afford to treat your kid's tuberculosis -- worrying about anthrax
and smallpox really seems ridiculous because these health issues are affecting
everyday people every day. It's not theoretical. It's real. We need to get
For more information about Cover the Uninsured Week, click
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Created: 3/15/2003  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.