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Introduction to Milwaukee's healthcare safety net

Tens of millions of people nationwide face life every day without health insurance or make do with inadequate coverage, according to Milwaukee's Health Department. Where do the uninsured and under-insured go for health care in Milwaukee? How effective is the city's health safety net in 2011?

Because individuals and families without adequate -- or any -- health insurance are more likely to bypass preventative care measures and postpone recommended or necessary check-ups, immunizations and treatments, they are more likely to require costly hospitalizations later. But the Milwaukee Health Department's Community Healthcare Access program aims to connect more people to needed healthcare resources and services.

Three sites offer healthcare coverage assistance and referrals five days a week (though exact hours vary; call 414-286-8620 for information): Keenan Health Center, 3200 N. 36th Street; Northwest Health Center, 7630 W. Mill Road; and Southside Health Center, 1639 S. 23rd Street.

Still, budget cuts in 2011 have stressed key Wisconsin healthcare programs, such as Badger Care Core and Badger Care Plus, according to The Wisconsin State Journal, leading to premium increases for Badger Care Plus that are beyond the ability of as many as 64,000 to pay, closing further enrollment and resulting in even greater numbers of uninsured Milwaukee residents, next to a statewide waiting list of over 80, 000 for the free Badger Core program.

Yes, a longstanding network of private and public resources scattered throughout the city continues to provide diverse health services -- first come, first served, free or for a sliding-scale-based fee. Check-out this list of free and low cost clinics.

But this safety-net is being stretched thinner and thinner these days, as dedicated organizers and volunteers do their bests to cover the growing need for healthcare services for low-income Milwaukeeans, according to a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profile of an inner-city clinic for the under- and uninsured that the columnist termed an "oasis of care."

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