Presence of Nation’s 40 Million Uninsured Could Hamper Ability to Contain Bioterrorism-Related Disease
Health officials' ability to detect and contain the spread of infectious diseases resulting from a bioterrorist attack could be impeded because many of the 40 million Americans who lack health insurance would not seek medical treatment, according to an article published in today's issue of the journal Science, the AP/Arizona Republic reports. Dr. Matthew Wynia of the American Medical Association and Lawrence Gostin, a health law professor at Georgetown University, write that the uninsured could spread a bioterrorism-released disease more quickly because they are more likely than people with health coverage to delay needed medical care. In addition, the authors note that some undocumented immigrants forego treatment altogether because of concerns about deportation. "Their lack of insurance is a known risk to their own health, but it must now also be recognized as a risk to the nation's health," Wynia and Gostin state. The authors call on the Bush administration to "issue a directive" that would allow people who suspect they have a contagious illness to seek medical care -- "regardless of their ability to pay or legal standing" -- without the fear of consequences. Dr. D.A. Henderson, the administration's top bioterrorism health adviser, said such a directive "would not help much," adding that if uninsured people contract a disease from a bioterrorist attack, "the great majority are going to be very sick ... and scared enough to go to a hospital," which would be required by federal law to provide treatment regardless of patients' ability to pay (AP/Arizona Republic, 5/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.