I understand we need standard poverty guidelines within the U.S. so we know which households and individuals are equally eligible for government services. I really do understand it, but it makes me crazy. Every time I look at the guidelines, I think, “How do people live on this amount?!” For example, I have a family of five. The corresponding poverty income level is $2,180.83 per month or $26,170 annually. 150% of the poverty level is $3,271.25 monthly or $39,255 annually. For a family of five!
I typically look at the guidelines as patients need services – to see where they are in the guidelines. Are they below the poverty level? At 150% of the poverty level? It’s a sobering fact that many families I help serve meet the guidelines, but what is even more mind-boggling and maddening is there are many, many more families that just slightly exceed the guideline limits, leaving them ineligible of government resources and stuck in a “gray” area – too wealthy for help and too poor to make ends meet, especially in light of a chronic or acute illness. Couple that with a lack of insurance, which is very likely in Texas since we lead the nation in uninsured adults and children(!), and it is a recipe for financial disaster, which greatly impacts patient outcomes due to ability to pay for necessary services.
Poverty levels make me crazy, but it is our system – especially in Texas – that frustrates me more. 30% of the State’s population – 5.8 million people – lack health insurance. For perspective, there are 33 states that have a population of 5.8 million people or less. The entire populations of Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming combined could lack health insurance and Texas would still have about 600,000 more uninsured people. Yeah, it’s that bad; and it makes me crazy.
For more information on specifics of poverty within the U.S., see the U.S. Census Bureau’s recently released Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010. It is a 96-page document, but it is full of intriguing and saddening information as well as some useful comparative data charts.
*POV = point of view