PRINCETON, NJ: Alert viewers will notice a common thread running through some of TV's most popular shows this week. On ER, a number of patients streaming into the Chicago hospital don't have health coverage. Neither does a character on the soap Passions in need of nursing care after a hospital stay.
And if you're still not pondering co-pays, HMOs, and PPOs, check out Law & Order: SVU. Its plot will feature the arrest of an uninsured transsexual undergoing hormone treatment.
The plot similarities are a unique part of a massive effort to highlight the plight of millions of uninsured Americans. Cosponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Cover the Uninsured Week campaign will unfurl in US newspapers, town-hall meetings, and living rooms.
But the campaign won't write prescriptions for how to fix a system that, as a study found, left one out of three Americans under 65 without insurance during a two-year period. Instead, its goal is to draw attention to an issue that has largely been neglected in recent years.
"The most important thing we can do is create an atmosphere for discussion," said Stuart Schear, senior communications officer for the foundation.
"It was important to communicate to the separate audiences, but tie it all together in an effort to paint this as a big picture."
Schear said the television networks' interest in the campaign, which will also include PSAs, resulted from a seminar for writers and from the support of Neal Baer, executive producer of SVU, and a doctor by training. He sent a letter to others in the television industry endorsing the effort.
The campaign will also see the release of three studies, as well as events that include a diverse group of personalities, from Ralph Reed to Hillary Clinton, and organizations across the ideological spectrum, from the AFL-CIO to the US Chamber of Commerce.