Cover the Uninsured Week is not what it used to be. The eighth annual event was held last week with much less of the public fanfare that historically has marked the event.
The week that wasn't
Foundation cuts spending, focuses on research
The sponsorship group that launched the weeklong campaign—the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—has in recent years pulled back on its spending and involvement, a move officials say reflects greater public understanding about the plight of the uninsured.
“The original idea was to ensure that there was awareness about the problem of the uninsured,” said Andy Hyman, senior program officer and team director of the healthcare coverage program at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J. “The focus this year is almost entirely on research.”
In 2003, when the event started, one could argue that members of the public and even some policymakers thought the term “the uninsured” referred to people without auto or home insurance.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation set out to educate the public on the coverage crisis, based on solid research. From 2002 to 2004, the foundation funded the Institute of Medicine’s work on the uninsured, which culminated in six volumes of reports. In 2008, the IOM updated its findings on the uninsured.
In addition to research, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spent money in prior years on advertising and public awareness campaigns around the week, and put on events with local partners.
But the foundation halted this involvement. This year and last year, it spent no money on advertising and media for Cover the Uninsured Week, Hyman said. He declined to provide details on spending changes.
“The nature of the campaign evolved as health reform evolved,” Hyman said. “Policymakers and the public began to clearly understand the issue of the uninsured.”
Coverage and access for the nation’s 45 million uninsured are a cornerstone of the reform bills in Congress, and coverage is a priority of the president.
This year, the foundation released two reports on the uninsured. One outlines the potential costs if reform doesn’t happen. About 10 million more Americans could be uninsured in only five years without reform, and government spending on coverage programs such as Medicaid could double by 2020, according to the report.
The second report, called Barely Hanging On: Middle-Class and Uninsured, indicates that the middle-class is becoming uninsured at a faster pace than the poor. Some 13 million people with incomes between $45,000 and $85,000 were uninsured in 2008, up by 2 million people since 2000.
The foundation is still actively supporting coverage programs across the nation. About 20% of its grant award portfolio in 2008, or $55.6 million, was spent on coverage initiatives, research and solutions, according to financial documents.
Amid the escalating crisis of the uninsured, the foundation is taking a more hands-off approach to the campaign. As many as 100 events happened around the country last week, but they were organized mostly independently, and focused largely on enrolling qualifying people into existing coverage programs such as Medicaid.
“This year we’re not looking to generate grassroots campaigns around the country,” Hyman said. “The country is already focused on health reform.”
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