As Dolores walked through the door of the community center's health fair, I could tell something was terribly wrong. She walked unsteadily, groping the wall for support, and she seemed to be sweating too much for a cool spring morning. After having her blood pressure, vision, and cholesterol checked, she came to my table to enroll in health insurance programs. She was desperately in need of health care: With advanced diabetes she barely had feeling in her feet—a sure sign of nerve damage—and her blood pressure had soared to dangerous heights.
Despite her need, as a middle-aged woman working for minimum wage without benefits, Dolores didn't qualify for any insurance programs, public or private. The only option left for Dolores was the emergency room—where her immediate problem would be addressed, but the longer term effects of diabetes would remain unchecked until she ends up back in the ER again.
Dolores' story is not unique. You may have heard the statistics: 44.3 million Americans don't have health insurance, and their ranks are growing by 100,000—enough to fill the largest stadium in the country—each day. Millions more are "underinsured," meaning that their health plan may not cover all the services needed or may make obtaining them so difficult that people quit trying. And in this country, problems with insurance mean problems with health care, since health care costs are so high that very few people can pay on their own.