Patients skimp on health care to contend with economic flu

Patients skimp on health care to contend with economic flu

EUGENE, Ore. - Wall Street may have posted gains Tuesday, but the down economy is leading to another problem.

More and more people are getting sick and putting off doctor visits or critical tests.

A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the ailing economy is leading to more ailing people.

In the survey, 36 percent of people asked say the down economy has forced them to skip doctor visits.  Almost one-third have passed on a recommended test or treatment.  Both those numbers are up from a poll done in April.

Officials at a Eugene, Ore., health clinic are taking note.

Nora Smith of Elmira, Ore., is ready for her checkup. She says without her clinic care, this kind of visit would probably go by the wayside.

"We would have nowhere else to go. This is the only place I know that takes care of people who make too much for the Oregon Health Plan," says Smith, who explains her husband is a pastor and they don't have private insurance coverage.

An estimated 62,000 people in Lane County have no health care coverage of any kind.  Many of those people wind up right here at Volunteers In Medicine.

Clinic officials are not surprised more people are skipping doctor visits and skipping tests.

"We anticipate if the economy keeps going in this direction, that the numbers of uninsured in Lane County will keep increasing and we'll have more patients in the door," said Jackie Mikalonis, the clinic's executive director. 

The clinic sees those folks caught in the middle.  They make too much income for the Oregon Health Plan, but can't afford private insurance.  It averages 50 new clients per month, but officials say those numbers could rise.

Dr. Frank Turner has volunteered at the clinic since 2001.

"We've dealt with people who don't have adequate insurance for a long time and we can keep doing it," he said. "We might have to work a little harder."

Doctors worry the result will be sicker patients and more costly treatment. 

Meanwhile, some local dentists are noticing the same trend. 

"Things like decay, periodontal disease, abscess teeth -- they don't get any better on their own,"  said Dr. Norm Magnuson. "They only get worse with time."

Dr. Magnuson says more patients are postponing visits until the new year when their insurance benefits will be better.

The Volunteers In Medicine clinic offers free health care to low income residents, if they meet income guidelines.

For more information call (541) 685-1800.