Congress may have adjourned for the year without acting on the problem of the uninsured, but that has not stopped interest groups and candidates from talking about the issue.
The American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, the largest physician specialty society, with 116,000 members, last week released a report detailing how the lack of insurance affects individuals' health.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of uninsured Americans stood at 44.3 million in 1998.
"Physicians have been watching an epidemic grow in this country," said Whitney Addington, M.D., president of the ACP-ASIM. "Being uninsured constitutes a terrible health risk" similar to that of smoking or failing to wear a seat belt.
The report, No Health Insurance: It's Enough to Make You Sick, compiles information from more than 100 studies. It found that:
* The uninsured are nearly four times more likely to delay seeking care.
* The uninsured are more than three times more likely to die in the hospital than patients with insurance.
* Children without insurance are 40% less likely to receive medical attention for a serious injury.
* Breast cancer patients without insurance are more likely to die than insured patients.
Addington also noted that Americans without insurance are more likely to suffer preventable strokes, heart attacks or congestive heart failure.
The report is part of the group's $1 million Decision 2000 campaign, which aims to debunk myths about the uninsured and urge politicians to find solutions to the problem.
Like the Catholic Health Association, which also has taken a keen interest in the uninsured, the ACP-ASIM is asking presidential and congressional candidates to develop an action plan for health coverage.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a presidential hopeful, responded to the ACP-ASIM's report in a Nov. 30 letter, saying that the issue of the uninsured "must be confronted by the next president."
The letter hinted that McCain favors a multifaceted approach to the problem, including beefing up Medicaid outreach and using tax deductions to motivate employers and individuals to pursue coverage.
"My administration will also work with employers, healthcare providers, insurers and the uninsured to increase the number and range of insurance plans and healthcare options available to individuals, particularly the working poor," McCain wrote.
McCain is expected to deliver a comprehensive policy speech on healthcare and the uninsured in the next month.
So far, two Democratic candidates for president, Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), have each proposed healthcare system reform plans that would increase coverage.