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Help for Families without Health Insurance

Assisting Local Families without Health Insurance

By John Collett


Cayuga Medical Center participates in National Uninsured Week during the first week in May. Our goals are two-fold: to help area residents enroll in state- and locally-funded health-care plans for low-income families and children; and to draw attention to a major national problem.


Forty-six million people in the United States have no health insurance. Many more have insurance that is so inadequate they cannot afford to seek health care when they need it because they can’t afford the co-payment. The ramifications of this problem are significant on two levels. The first and most immediate impact is on quality of life: research shows that people who have no health insurance are afraid to seek medical care because of the cost. By delaying visits to the doctor, minor problems can develop into major illnesses, and their life expectancy may be diminished.


The additional impact affects the health-care delivery system. In New York State, where most hospitals are not-for-profit, our mandate is to provide care to any person who needs it, whether or not they carry insurance. Uncompensated hospital care is an enormous financial burden on hospitals, the health-care system, and the taxpayers.


What kind of help is available to area residents?


New York sponsors two programs for uninsured residents that enable families and children to acquire health-care coverage at little or no cost. The first program, called Family Health Plus, is available to single adults, couples without children, and parents with limited income who are between the ages of 19-64. To be eligible, you must be a resident of New York State and a United States citizen, or you must fall under one of many immigration categories.


The amount of family income you have and the size of your family determine your eligibility for Family Health Plus. This is a program that helps people who make too much income to qualify for Medicaid but who still cannot afford health insurance on their own. The benefits of Family Health Plus are that you pay nothing to enroll in the program, there are no health insurance premiums, and you only make co-payments for certain services when you visit the doctor. You also get comprehensive coverage for doctor visits, hospital services, prescription drugs, and more. If you have individual or work-related health insurance, you are not eligible to enroll for Family Health Plus.


The second New York State sponsored program is Child Health Plus.

This is a health insurance program for children only (through age 18) and eligibility is based on family income. There may be no costs to participating in the program, or there may be a sliding fee scale for premiums, depending on income. The covered benefits are the same as those listed above for Family Health Plus. Child Health Plus is a good and comprehensive program.


How can I enroll in Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus?


In Tompkins County, facilitators at Catholic Charities can walk you through the enrollment process. In Cortland County, you can contact the Department of Health. You can also call toll free in New York State for more information on Family Health Plus at 1-877-9FH-PLUS or go on to their Web site at To get more information about Child Health Plus, just call 1-800-698-4KID or go to the Web site at


What if I’m interested in cancer screening tests but my health insurance policy doesn’t cover them and I can’t afford to pay on my own?


If you have no health insurance, or if your health insurance policy does not cover the cost of screening tests for breast, cervical, or colorectal cancer, you may be eligible for help from The Cancer Services Program of Cortland and Tompkins Counties. With funding by the NYS Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Cayuga Medical Center, The Cancer Services Program of Cortland and Tompkins Counties works with local health-care practitioners to provide no-cost and low-cost clinical breast examinations, mammograms, Pap tests, and colorectal screenings.


In addition to cancer screening, The Cancer Services Program of Cortland and Tompkins Counties also provides education about prostate cancer. To find out more, 277-0960.


What if the Emergency Department doctor gives me a prescription but I can’t afford to fill it?


There is now help through a new program called Urgent Rx, developed in collaboration with the United Way, the Health Planning Council, and Kinney Drugs pharmacies in Tompkins County. Urgent Rx assists low-income, uninsured residents of Tompkins County obtain medicine that has been prescribed in Cayuga Medical Center’s Emergency Department and Convenient Care Center, enabling patients to complete their treatment plans. For more information on Urgent RX, call the Convenient Care Center at 274-4150 and ask to speak with one of our nurses.


John Collett has been controller at Cayuga Medical Center for seven years. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Hospicare and Palliative Care Services in Tompkins County.


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