Uninsured persons have names and stories

A lot of people were helped at SC Mission 2011: Midlands, which was recently held at the Carolina Coliseum.

Unfortunately, a lot more people need help in South Carolina and around the country.

And I know that within the blink of an eye, I could easily be one of thousands who sat hours upon hours waiting for free medical, eye and dental care during the two-day event that helped more than 2,000 people.

Before the doors opened to SC Mission 2011: Midlands, I had the opportunity to talk with the first 50 or so people in line. As they told me their stories, I responded very sincerely that I could easily be sitting where they are.   I just happen to presently be working for an organization where health care insurance is available and affordable. Obviously, that's not the case for everyone, everywhere.

There are more than 760,000 uninsured South Carolinians, according to the U.S. Census. According to the Census Bureau data, 17% of South Carolina residents lacked health insurance coverage in 2009, up from 15.8% in 2008. Nearly 12% of South Carolina children lacked health insurance as well.

How is that even possible and why can't something be done to change that?

There have been times in my life when I have been uninsured. As a 20-something working as a reporter at a small paper in Texas, I went without health insurance simply because I couldn't afford the premium. Paying the premium would have felt like having the company keep my entire check, and I had other bills to pay. So I simply went without and hoped for the best.

The second time I went without health insurance I was in between jobs. My only choice was COBRA, but there was not pay I could afford those premiums. So, I was uninsured for several months.

Thank goodness I was and am a healthy person and that nothing unexpected happened to me that would have required medical care.

Millions of Americans are not that fortunate.

Walking around the Carolina Coliseum that day shined a glaring light on that fact again. In my work at the South Carolina Hospital Association, we often talk about the number of uninsured persons in South Carolina.  But it is one thing to talk about the issue and what can be done to improve it and a completely different thing when you look into the faces of uninsured persons who have medical problems and few places to go for help.

All have their own stories to share.

Barbara was first in line at SC Mission 2011. She told me how she had to retire early to take care of her parents. Although both them have since died, she is now responsible for  taking care of four young family members. She is thankful to be a healthy person, but has struggled with her teeth for some time. She needed teeth extracted to relieve the pain with which she lived.

Barbara made me think of Judi, the first patient in line last year when SC Mission 2010 was held in Greenville.  She, too, desperately needed to see a dentist to have teeth extracted.  Also, she hadn't seen a medical doctor in about a decade because she used the little money she had to keep a roof over this head, electricity on and food on the table. A very practical person, Judi explained that some people stand in line to buy the newest electronic gimmick, but she stands in line to get free health care.

Both of these women have worked and paid taxes during their lifetimes, yet here they are standing in line to have their most troublesome health problems addressed.\

These are just two 0f the many people women with whom I have spoken during both events. They are not numbers. They are not nameless.  They are real people whom I will never forget.

Were you there and did you volunteer? Share your story.