Underinsured and Overwhelmed

May 11-17, 2006
Underinsured and Overwhelmed
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Week Calls Attention to Those Who Live Without Medical Insurance

Those who are without health insurance come from many different circumstances. They may have lost their jobs and the insurance benefits that went with them; they may be recent college graduates still trying to gain full-time employment; they may be young families struggling to make ends meet through a series of part-time jobs. Since its founding in 1993, Fidelis Care New York, a Catholic-sponsored health plan, has been serving all those people who fit these descriptions and more.

The brainchild of Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, the organization began as the Catholic Health Services Plan of Brooklyn and Queens. The eight bishops of the dioceses in New York State agreed to support the health plan after studying the ever-changing health care services in 1995. It is the bishops’ and the late cardinal’s support of the poor and underserved that serves as the foundation of the programs offered by Fidelis Care.

Fidelis Care offers Family Health Plus, Child Health Plus, Medicaid programs and a Medicare Advantage program that serves residents of Oneida, Herkimer, Montgomery and Schenectady Counties. More than a quarter million New York residents are covered by the low cost health care plans. But, as information from Fidelis Care reports, there are three million more people to insure across the state.

Cover the Uninsured Week was the first week of May and the bishops of Buffalo, Brooklyn, Albany and Syracuse were out in support of the initiative. Bishop James Moynihan spoke at the Central Region Fidelis Care office in East Syracuse on May 2. Several members of Catholic Charities were there as well as the administration of the organization. The bishop held a press conference highlighting the success of Fidelis Care and the need to keep reaching out to serve the uninsured.

Bishop Moynihan spoke about the beginnings of Fidelis Care calling the organization “the dream of Cardinal O’Connor” and he said that the bishops were asked to support financially the new endeavor. Diocesan hospitals were asked to support it as well. “It was a risk,” the bishop said, “an adventure.” The health care service proved so successful that the start-up monies were repaid early. “Fidelis Care has been a success story from the beginning and one reason is that we’ve had the same administrators over the years.”

Mark Lane, president and CEO of Fidelis Care New York, has been involved since the beginning. The organization served the 14 zip codes in Brooklyn in the mid 1990s. Now it serves 36 counties across the state. Before coming to Fidelis Care, Lane was the CEO of the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens. He is a native of Syracuse and joked at the beginning of his remarks about calling his mother to give her a Syracuse weather report.

Lane told the press gathered that there are 46 million uninsured Americans and that 8 million of them are children.He said when drivers are pulled over by the police the first thing said is, “Let me see your insurance card.” Unfortunately, Lane said, “We care more about the bodies of our vehicles than our own bodies.”

There were two mothers at the press conference, both from Syracuse. Zara Kirkwood told reporters about how her son Christopher graduated from college and no longer qualified for coverage under the family’s insurance plan. Kirkwood said she had many sleepless nights worrying about what might happen to her son while he had no health insurance.

“Our family couldn’t take another bill,” Kirkwood said. “With Fidelis Care, he had insurance so he could take a few months to get his resume in order and choose the job he really wanted.” Kirkwood praised the staff at Fidelis Care for their help and compassion. All children under the age of 19, regardless of household income, qualify for Child Health Plus and premiums begin at $9 per month. Those over 19 can qualify for Family Health Plus or one of the other programs offered by Fidelis Care.

For Susan Cunningham, Family Health Plus was a source of real peace of mind. She and her husband have eight children and when he was laid off from his job continuing their health insurance plan at a cost of $800 a month was not an option. Cunningham said that a family experiencing job loss is “rattled” already. So to add the additional anxiety of no health insurance worsens an already tough situation. They trusted in the “providence of God,” Cunningham said and they approached Fidelis Care.

“They came to our home and treated us with great dignity,” Cunningham said. Whenever she had a question, the staff was there to answer, Cunningham said. A couple of her sons had to have knee surgery, one daughter is a college student requiring coverage and when her husband’s health insurance plan changed with his new employer, Fidelis Care helped her to navigate the process.

The bishops’ goal and Fidelis Care New York’s goal is to bring quality health care that includes preventative care to all the uninsured in the state. Call 1-888-343-3547 or visit http://www.fideliscare.org
to find out more.

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