Columbia’s War on Poverty: Healthcare Access for Missouri’s Vulnerable Communities

Winning Columbia’s war on poverty requires us to pay attention to the issues faced by our state, realizing our interdependence. Far too many people in Missouri are facing poverty, generally resulting in limited access to adequate healthcare.

The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey for 2020 reported that approximately 13.6% of Missourians lacked health insurance, highlighting the vulnerability of a substantial portion of the state's population. Moreover, the interconnected factors of poverty, education, and systemic inequalities exacerbate the challenges of accessing quality healthcare services.

The healthcare access gap for people facing poverty in Missouri relates to myriad interrelated factors. One is a lack of insurance coverage, leaving many reliant on the emergency room or forgoing medical attention altogether.

A second factor is geographic barriers – rural areas in Missouri face the dual challenge of limited healthcare facilities and transportation options, making it difficult for residents to access necessary medical services in a timely manner.

A third factor is health literacy – low health literacy, exacerbated by limited educational opportunities, can hinder individuals from understanding their healthcare needs, treatment options, and preventive measures.

A fourth is provider shortages – certain regions, especially rural and underserved areas, suffer from a shortage of healthcare providers, limiting the availability of medical professionals to deliver essential care.

Obviously, the consequence of inadequate healthcare access can be pretty serious. The repercussions of inadequate healthcare access reverberate through the lives of individuals and communities facing poverty in Missouri.

Limited access to preventive care and regular medical check-ups can lead to undiagnosed and untreated health conditions, resulting in higher rates of chronic illnesses and decreased life expectancy. Lack of insurance coverage and limited access to affordable care often force individuals to choose between seeking medical attention and meeting basic needs, exacerbating their financial burdens.

Poor health can perpetuate the cycle of poverty as individuals facing health issues struggle to maintain steady employment or advance their education. Health-related absences due to untreated illnesses can disrupt children's education, impeding their academic progress and future opportunities.

Addressing healthcare disparities for people facing poverty in Missouri requires a concerted effort from various stakeholders. For our efforts to succeed, an awful lot of us need to step up! Some can be done by the nonprofit community – an awful lot is being done by nonprofits – but we can not do it all.

We need to expand Medicaid eligibility to cover a broader range of low-income individuals and families so we can significantly increase access to essential healthcare services. Speaking of expansion, expanding telehealth services can bridge geographical barriers, enabling individuals in remote areas to access medical consultations and advice remotely.

Investing in and expanding community health centers in underserved areas can provide a crucial safety net for those lacking access to primary care.

Implementing targeted health literacy initiatives can empower individuals with the knowledge to make informed healthcare decisions and navigate the complex healthcare system.

Establishing health centers within schools can ensure that children have access to necessary medical services, promoting their overall well-being and academic success.

Raising awareness about available healthcare resources, insurance options, and preventive measures can empower individuals to take charge of their health.

The disparity in healthcare access for people facing poverty in Missouri is a multifaceted challenge that demands urgent attention and collective action. The state's commitment to equitable healthcare access is not only a matter of social justice but also a strategic investment in the well-being of its citizens and the overall prosperity of the state.

By addressing the underlying causes, fostering collaboration among stakeholders, and implementing targeted initiatives, Missouri has the potential to bridge the healthcare access gap and ensure that all of its residents, regardless of their socioeconomic status, have the opportunity to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Major Kevin Cedervall is a leader of The Salvation Army in Columbia. The Salvation Army provides a wide range of community services to address poverty and other issues, seeking to rebuild lives and create lasting change.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Healthcare Access for Missouri’s Vulnerable Communities