Powerful Media for Pressing Issues


The Health Care Crisis in America

“I am not a bum. I’m a mom. Please help.” That’s what Sheila Wessenberg wrote on a coffee can when she was forced to panhandle to save her family from medical bankruptcy. Overwhelmed by financial loss and terminal illness, this 44-year-old mother of two was running out of time and options. Wessenberg, who had a mastectomy, lost her coverage when her husband lost his job. Within a year, the Wessenbergs went from living in a luxury townhouse on an income of over $100,000, to facing bankruptcy and desperation. The film reveals the reality behind America’s dysfunctional healthcare system and what it means when access to care is denied.

Click here to see Denied on the MSNBC.com series Dose of Reality.

Outrage. That’s what the stories in the book Denied: The Crisis of America’s Uninsured should inspire. Outrage at a system that doles out care based on the ability to pay rather than legitimate need. Outrage for the people who suffer in silence when a remedy is out of reach. Outrage at a society that allows people to die because they can’t afford healthcare.

The individual stories that appear in this book, one for every million uninsured people, are stark testimony against a dysfunctional healthcare delivery system. They reveal the harrowing reality faced by people every day when access is denied and the disparity in healthcare rules their lives.

Every man, woman and child has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
- Universal Declaration Of Human Rights


  • Nearly 47 million Americans have no health insurance. That number exceeds the combined population of 24 states.
  • Some 18,000 people die prematurely every year as a result of having no insurance. That’s the equivalent of six September 11ths every year.
  • Every 30 seconds someone in the U.S. files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.
  • Middle-income households accounted for the greatest increase in the number of uninsured in 2005.
  • The majority of uninsured Americans are neither poor by official standards nor unemployed. In fact, seven out of ten uninsured Americans come from families where one adult works.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities account for over half of the uninsured.
  • Employer-sponsored health care is harder to obtain every year. Without job-based group coverage, private insurance can be unattainable or unaffordable.
  • The uninsured are more likely to live sicker and die younger.  Uninsured people with terminal illnesses are often diagnosed later and lack access to life-saving technology.
  • Uninsured women with breast cancer are twice as likely to die from the disease than women who are insured.
  • Having insurance improves overall health and could reduce mortality rates for the uninsured by 10-15%.
  • The U.S. spends over 53% more on health care than any other industrialized country, even those that provide universal health care.
  • According to the Institute of Medicine, if the U.S. provided universal health care under the current system, the cost of insuring everyone would increase spending by less than two percent.

Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation, The New York Times, U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Institute of Medicine.

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
- Dr. Thomas Fuller


Americans for Healthcare
Facts and advocacy for reliable healthcare.
Community Catalyst
A national advocacy organization working to ensure quality, affordable care for all.
Consumers Union
The publishers of Consumer Reports magazine provide information on health care services.
Cover the Uninsured
A national education campaign.
Health Care For All Movement
More than 20 states have grassroots movements working toward universal coverage.
Kaiser Family Foundation
Outlines key facts and research about health insurance coverage in America.
Physicians for a National Health Program
An organization of 12,000 physicians who advocate for the right to health care and for single payer national health insurance.


The National Associate of Community Health Centers can help find a clinic near you
(301) 347-0400

The Bureau of Primary Health Care can help you locate primary medical care, obstetricians, dental care, and other specialty providers:
(888) 275-4772

Do you have legal questions about getting and keeping health insurance?
Guides are available at www.healthinsuranceinfo.net to summarize your protections in fifty states and the District of Columbia.

Are you or your children eligible for low-cost or free health care coverage?
To find out if you are eligible for Medicaid, call the toll-free number for your state, located in your phone book and at

To learn if your children are eligible for low-cost or free coverage, call (877) KIDS-NOW.

To find information on Medicare eligibility, health plans in your area, prescription drug assistance programs, and Medigap, as well as a directory of participating physicians and suppliers in your area, go to www.medicare.gov or call your local Medicare office.

Do you have a problem getting needed medical services paid by your health coverage?
Visit www.healthassistancepartnership.org to link to ombudsman programs across the country that counsel people with both private and public health coverage who have experienced difficulty getting the care they believe they need. The number to the national office in Washington DC is (202) 737-6340.

How do you locate a clinic near you?
Links to public health organizations and resources are available online at www.phf.org or by calling (202) 898-5600.

Are you having trouble affording medications?
Pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs, which provide prescription drugs for free or at a minimal charge. For more information, visit these sites or alert your health care provider to these resources:

To find information about programs offering free prescription medicines to the disabled and qualified low-income individuals, visit: www.disabilityresources.org/RX.html

Become a Volunteer

To volunteer in a free clinic near you, visit www.americares.org or call toll-free at (800) 486-4357.


The Institute of Medicine has published four outstanding reports on the uninsured.
For more information: www.iom.edu/uninsured
To order:  (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-2352



  • Featured in The New York Times Magazine February 9, 2003
  • Featured on the MSNBC.com series Dose of Reality
  • Featured in The San Francisco Chronicle April 27, 2003
  • Featured in the American Journal of Nursing January 2007

The exhibition Denied: The Crisis of America’s Uninsured illustrates what it means to be without health insurance by sharing powerful personal accounts. The show consists of 20 oversized black-and-white photographs by award-winning photojournalist Ed Kashi, with accompanying text by writer Julie Winokur. These compelling images reveal the personal struggle to maintain hope and dignity when access to health care is denied. They convey the human toll of being uninsured in a way that statistics and studies can’t possibly achieve. They bring the issues to life on a vivid and profound scale that has already touched thousands of people.

Sample of Past Exhibitions

The Denied Exhibition took a 20-city tour as part of an extensive outreach campaign.

Princeton University
Presented by the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies
Princeton, NJ

Texas Statewide Tour
Presented by Health Care For All Texas
El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, College Station, Galveston and Houston

Union Station
Washington, DC

The Empire State Building
New York City

SF Exposure Gallery
San Francisco, CA



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