According to the most recent edition of Adelphi University’s Vital Signs report published in 2009, “The majority of the uninsured [in our region] are from low-income households that do not receive employer-based healthcare coverage or cannot afford to purchase it on their own. They are largely nonelderly, working adults and their children who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare (p. 56).” This description is nearly identical to the circumstances of the individuals and families in crisis who come to us for emergency food. Our guests have household incomes at or below poverty level (household income @ $23,050 for a family of four). They are single Moms raising children alone, adult men working at minimum wage trying to feed their families and pay for their prescriptions, families where a breadwinner is incarcerated or disabled and cannot work, and seniors, an increasing number of whom are raising their grandchildren.
Unemployment rates have not diminished over the past year, foreclosures are on the rise, and severe budget cuts in both counties mean ever increasing numbers of vulnerable households are at risk. And when people lose their jobs, they lose their health insurance.
An article entitled “The new look of the uninsured” published by the Long Island Business News in 2009, stated that about 15% of Long Island’s population is uninsured – about 160,000 in Nassau County and another 178,000 in Suffolk County, or 339,000 Island-wide. According to Vital Signs 2009, more and more middle-income households can no longer afford health insurance even if their employers offer coverage. In 2007, nearly 40% of our area’s uninsured lived in households earning $50,000 or more per year (p. 56). Since these statistics were published, the number of uninsured has surely increased considerably. Even those with employer-based health insurance are facing higher deductibles and co-pays.
None of the vulnerable people we serve has adequate health insurance. Most have none at all. They can’t afford to fill their prescriptions and can’t afford to see a doctor, so they stay sick and get sicker. Sometimes they die. Time and again our guests ask us for prescription assistance. They are folks who just got out of the hospital after cancer surgery and have a fist-full of prescriptions that can’t afford to fill, or a family member was in an auto accident and ended up in the hospital. Without health insurance, hospitals are also under increased financial pressure because they must care for more and more of the uninsured, and reimbursements don’t begin to cover their costs.
Without health insurance, a family’s prescriptions can cost hundreds of dollars. A single guest who came to us for help had $800 of medical prescriptions to fill for her family for one month! Many more need help with prescriptions that range from $10 to $300 or more. As so tragically happens, our guests are forced to choose between feeding their families and seeking the medical care they need, or between paying the rent and buying their prescriptions. After the lack of affordable housing, the lack of affordable health insurance is the second most characteristic reason that our guests come to us for food assistance.