By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO May 11, 2004 Imagine having to make the choice between feeding your children for a week and having your sons broken arm set.
Imagine heading to work with a 104-degree fever because one day off could mean losing your apartment.
For most people, the mere thought is terrifying.
For hundreds of Sullivan County residents, its a reality.
They are the uninsured.
Many of them have jobs, even professional careers.
But they cant afford a visit to the doctor. They havent had a basic dental cleaning in years. Theyre just working to hold their heads above water.
But it doesnt have to be that way.
Thats why several Sullivan County agencies have banded together to get the word out that help is available.
Saturday, they were out in full force at Wal-Mart in Monticello.
There were representatives from Hudson Health Source, a state program that offers health insurance to those who fall under certain income levels; folks from Public Health Nursing who had paperwork on free clinics and vaccinations available to everyone in Sullivan County; a man from Child Health Plus, a program available to any child in New York State whether theyre an American citizen or not; workers from PRASAD which does full dental work on kids from 6 months to 19 years; even a Spanish-speaking representative from Hudson River Community Health who offers help to migrant workers.
Theres no reason you should be at home sick without medications with all these services available, said Al Solorzano of Child Health Plus.
But 44 million Americans still go without health insurance 8.5 million of them are children.
For those families it means paying for medical care out of pocket or not going at all.
Even with dozens of agencies who have the answers, people dont know who to talk to and they dont get any help.
Warren Mastrogiovanni knows the problems firsthand.
A marketing representative with Hudson Health Source, he was helping families Saturday who might have Medicaid but still cant find a doctor to treat them.
State-run Hudson Health is like any insurance company, he said. They have in-network doctors in Sullivan County, a list of pediatricians, gynecologists, dentists, eye doctors, even nurse practitioners and physicians assistants who will accept their patients.
In the seven years Hudson Health has been in Sullivan County, it has helped some 5,000 people get the medical care they need.
Theres a Family Health Plus plan that will allow someone who falls under a certain income guideline to sign up for free.
Theres no co-pay, no deductible.
Then theres a managed plan which can work in concert with Medicaid and open doors to more providers.
With straight Medicaid, its hard finding a doctor, he explained. With us, [providers] will accept them.
Child Health Plus is a tiered system for kids 0 to 19. Based on the familys income, parents can pay nothing or the full premium. Some pay as little as $9 a month. And theres still no co-pay, no deductible.
It covers 100 percent of everything, Mastrogiovanni explained.
The programs are available across Sullivan County. And if you cant make it to the Monticello office to sign up, theyll come to you.
Theyll even provide stamped envelopes to folks to help them make sure they can afford to send out their premium payment each month.
It all sounds so easy. The problem?
Lots of people dont know about us, Mastrogiovanni said. We try to do whatever we need to do to get people on this it comes from the heart.
But theyve got to call us and let us know they need it.
If people arent sure what they qualify for or where they should turn for help, they can always call Public Health Nursing.
Another program run by the state, Public Health is for everyone in Sullivan County. There are services for the poor and the rich, the insured and those who havent been to a doctor in a decade.
If you have a problem and you dont know who to call, you can call Public Health, said Liz Bradfield, program coordinator for the agency. Well direct you to the right agency.
The people at PRASAD are ready to answer any question people have about dental care as well, as long as it means getting one more kid in that chair and saving them from a life of mouth disease and cavities.
They do exams, fillings, extractions, crowns everything a child could need. The only requirement?
They need not to have a dentist or dental insurance, said Office Manager Jean Miller.
Right now, PRASAD is in the schools getting to kids who need dental care. Theyre also open once a week at the main office in Hurleyville.
By the fall, they hope to have a sliding fee scale based on income for parents to bring their kids in for a check-up.
Saturday they were a lifesaver for Cynthia Ellies.
The Monticello mom has Medicaid but no dental insurance. She wanted all three of her children to get a check-up, so she stopped by the mini-health fair at Wal-Mart.
I think its great, she said. It helps people who dont have the funds or insurance.
Ellies got some tips from Mastrogiovanni, and shell be able to look at signing up for one of the Hudson Health programs to help provide her family with options that Medicaid doesnt cover.
In honor of Cover the Uninsured Week, May 10-16, the agencies that showed up in Monticello Saturday will be increasing attempts to get the word out this month.
A forum has been set on the issues, with the Sullivan County legislators invited, for May 26 at 7 p.m. at the Neighborhood Facility in Monticello.
Uninsured folks who want more information on the programs listed should call Public Health Nursing at 292-0100, Hudson Health Plan at 796-3039, Hudson River Health at 794-5596 or PRASAD at 434-0376.