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This "Be our Guest" column appeared in the Brooklyn edition of the New York Daily News.

By Larry McReynolds, Lutheran Family Health Centers

Every day I hear the stories of patients who do not come to us for care until they have been brought to their knees by illness or disease.

Overwhelmingly, their conditions could have been diagnosed and treated earlier and more effectively - or even prevented altogether.

They didn't come sooner, they tell us, because they didn't think they could afford care.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans are more worried about paying for health care than they are about losing their jobs, paying the rent or being the victims of a terrorist attack.

The nation's concerns are well-founded. Every year, workers and patients are forced to shoulder an increased share of the $2 trillion health-care burden, while their incomes fail to keep pace.

In 2008 we can expect to hear many calls for change as presidential candidates present their plans to make health care more affordable and accessible.

There is, however, no need to wait for a health-care silver bullet. New Yorkers need to know that they have good health-care options right now, and they must avail themselves of these options.

By taking charge now, New Yorkers cansignificantly improve their overall well-being, reduce the risk of future illness and disease, and prevent burdensome and expensive emergency room visits and inpatient hospital admissions.

That's why Lutheran Family Health Centers has developed three simple personal health-care resolutions for all New Yorkers in 2008.

  • Get insured. Health insurance is not just an optional luxury; it's a vital component of overall well-being - not all that different from eating well, exercising and not smoking. New Yorkers without insurance may be surprised at the range of options available to them. Programs like Family Health Plus, Child Health Plus, and Lutheran HealthCare's Health Plus are designed to address the needs of individuals who have had difficulty obtaining coverage elsewhere. Most importantly, every child under the age of 19 is eligible for health insurance, regardless of income or immigration status.
  • Get tested. Prevention and early detection are keys to staying healthy, by increasing opportunities for interventions to prevent progression of disease and the emergence of symptoms. Those without a regular care provider should get free screenings and vaccinations at city health clinics and community health centers.
  • Get a doctor. According to the New York City Department of Health, 1.2 million adult New Yorkers were medically homeless in 2005. In other words, one in five adult New Yorkers did not have an established relationship with a doctor, nurse or other health-care professional who provided timely, well-organized care and enhanced access to other providers.

This New Year, make it a goal for yourself and get a doctor and a medical home - even if you don't have insurance and your income is limited.

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) like Lutheran Family Health Centers and city health clinics provide health care services of the highest quality to all patients regardless of their ability to pay. Visit the Health Center or city clinic in your neighborhood and develop a relationship with a doctor now, while you are healthy.

Larry McReynolds is executive director of Lutheran Family Health Centers.

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