Joe Wright proves defining “uninsured” isn’t always easy.

The 52-year-old Decorah resident works and can get medical insurance — except for the diabetes that has plagued his health for the 23 years. Insurance companies exempted coverage from the root cause of his health problems.

“When I came to Decorah five years ago, I was diabetic so nobody would see me,” Wright said.

Diabetes is a disease characterized by high sugar levels in the blood. These sugars can damage nerves, particularly in the body’s extremities. The results can include foot infections that go unnoticed — and untreated — with consequences as serious as amputation.

When Wright’s diabetes-related health problems outgrew the capabilities of Decorah’s free medical clinic, doctors introduced him to IowaCare, the state’s program for people who are ineligible for Medicaid. His introduction to IowaCare came just in time.

“I had a staph infection in my foot and I thought they would have to amputate it,” Wright said, “but with the education they provided it was saved.”

Wright has had to travel, though, for the IowaCare services. He started at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, 135 miles away, but now travels 100 miles to Dubuque’s Crescent Community Health Center.

“I go where they told me,” he said. “I went to Iowa City the first three years. Two years ago, I went to a clinic in Waterloo. The last year I’ve been at Crescent and they are really exceptional. The success of IowaCare for me overcomes the inconvenience.”

A one-way trip to Dubuque from Wright’s home covers slightly more than 100 miles. “I know two other people (with IowaCare) and I ride with them,” he said. “We make a day of it.”

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ABOUT THIS REPORT, the Burlington Hawk Eye, The Gazette (Cedar Rapids), Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Telegraph Herald (Dubuque) worked together this summer to report on the need for health care facing Iowans who do not have insurance. They reviewed more than two dozen documents and interviewed two dozen people.

Jaime Vargas, of, created the Uninsured in Iowa logo.

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