According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of American adults without health insurance jumped 6 percent, from 41.2 million to 43.6 million, from 2005 to 2006.
The CDC attributes this change to pricier insurance plans and the reluctance of many companies to provide insurance coverage for their employees. The situation in Spalding County is not that different from that of the nation as a whole, according to Eddie Whitlock, director of the nonprofit Hope Health Clinic.
“A lot of it has to do with the change in our local economy,” he said.
When the textile firms were the dominant employers, most workers received health insurance through their employer. When the economy shifted its base to retail, the wages changed little, but the benefits changed a lot.
Whitlock said “a little over 9,000” people in Spalding County lack health insurance, out of a total population of “a little over 62,000.”
He said that this situation hurts the working class — the government takes care of the poor and the insured or the affluent can take care of themselves, but people who are part of the working class are the ones who have to choose between house payments and medicine.
“They end up non-compliant with their physicians because they simply cannot afford their medications,” he said.
He said the medical-care situation in the United States is “at the brink of change” because of this.
Brenda Dallas works for Hospital Housekeeping Systems, an environmental-services company that Spalding Regional Medical Center subcontracts its cleaning to. Her company provides insurance coverage, but she does not use it.
“It’s expensive,” she said.
She relies on Hope Health Clinic for her medical needs.
“I get the same service as the other people with insurance,” she said. “I get the lab work or whatever I need. Then I get follow-up care.”
John Quinn, chief executive officer of Spalding Regional Medical Center, said one-third of emergency room patients do not have health insurance, and that a majority of those do not have the ability to pay the charges.
“The emergency department becomes the safety net for people without health insurance,” he said, since by law emergency rooms have to treat everyone who arrives in need of emergency care.
One-third of those who come to the emergency room do so for primary-care treatment.
“A lot of those people would be better served by a relationship with a physician who they see on a regular basis,” he said.
Unfortunately, for those without health insurance, that is often not an option.
For people without health insurance who need non-emergency medical treatment, the Hope Health Clinc (www.hopehealthclinic.com) is on North 10th Street and can be reached by phone at 770-412-1053.