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Covering the uninsured

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson spent Thursday afternoon in Farmington discussing health issues and asking for input on health insurance for everyone.

Emerson began her visit at BJC Behavioral Health to discuss a new program that is slotted to receive federal funding for an early intervention project for juveniles. The program targets offenders under age 18 who are in trouble with the law and need mental health services. Juvenile officers, County Commissioner Bret Burgess and mental health care providers met with Emerson.

BJC officials thanked Emerson for her support in calling attention in Washington to their grant request for $831,402. Funding is expected to arrive in the fall.

The new project partners BJE with the Department of Mental Health and Family Court to work with troubled youth in Washington and St. Francois Counties. Approximately 300 children who are referred to juvenile will receive mental health screenings to determine whether they would benefit from services. Other priorities include improving accessibility and availability of mental health service delivery to juveniles and their families and working to decrease the number of children entering the justice system.

According to mental health officials, research of incarcerated juveniles indicates that as many as 60 percent have a diagnosable mental illness, including substance abuse, most of which remains untreated.

“I believe if you can treat the mental health component, you can get rid of most of the other problems,” Emerson theorized. “This saves the taxpayers a lot of money.”

The second meeting, one of several health forums in Emerson’s district, was at the Farmington Chamber of Commerce. There, Emerson met with health officials including doctors, hospital administrators, a pharmacist and community activists.  Emerson said Congress is conducting many discussions about health insurance for the 47 million people who are uninsured.

One of the big issues is whether insurance should be paid by employers or by individuals, similar to the way in which people buy car insurance. Subsidies would be available to those who fall below certain poverty levels. There are pros and cons to the idea, she added.

One of the suggestions participants made was to give insurance companies the right to deny policies to people who do not take care of themselves.

Doctors and hospital administrators complained that there is a decline in doctors graduating from medical school, while the need continues to climb as Baby Boomers age.

One pharmacist called for national data base of clients’ prescription medicines. She also pointed out that some prescription drugs cost more than pharmacies can afford, often because insurance does not cover the entire cost.

Emerson listened to questions and complains, and said she would transcribe the notes. She plans to share them with health care committees in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

“I’m also going to meet with the White House health czar and share your comments and concerns, she said.

Emerson may be contacted locally at Farmington office,  22 East Columbia,  573-756-9755.

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