Speak up to protect and invest in health care

By Megan Wildenradt

By now most of us living here have heard about the challenge for this year’s state legislative session—too many obligations and not enough revenue to support them all. That gives our state lawmakers a tough job to determine the next budget, but, I believe, not an impossible one.

Earlier this month I joined fellow volunteer board members and staff from HealthPoint, a network of King County non-profit community health centers, at the State Capitol to make sure King County legislators knew the importance of protecting health care safety net programs that serve as a lifeline to so many people in our Ballard community and across Washington.

In 2014, our state leaders wisely made the decision to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. But recent gains in health care coverage came after a decade of devastating health care cuts, including the elimination of state support for health centers to care for the uninsured. I asked my legislators to get health care funding off this roller coaster and keep investments steady, without cutting budgets or benefits, such as dental, interpreter services and maternity support services.

Why protect these programs? We know that Medicaid is working in Washington, with more than 500,000 newly eligible adults covered, including 135,169 in King County. This coverage fosters health, protects lives and saves the state money by giving people access to regular, preventive health care they need.

Community health centers are at the forefront of providing care for these newly insured. Take for example Inez, a patient at one of HealthPoint’s clinics. Inez used to use the emergency room when she needed to see a doctor. She hadn’t had a check-up or preventive screenings for several years. Now that she’s insured, she has a care team at HealthPoint that knows her and helps her stay healthy.

This story exemplifies why I’m drawn to volunteer and stay connected to non-profit community health centers. They provide not only medical care, but a whole range of services to treat the whole person under one roof. Compassionate professionals take care of the needs of the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals in our communities with positive health and societal outcomes.

Which brings me to one of the other issues I urged state legislators to tackle—integration of mental health and chemical dependency services (called behavioral health) with primary care. If someone comes to her doctor to seek help in managing diabetes, her doctor will also have the resources and training to identify her depression and get her the care she needs, right then and there.

Community health centers are advocating for both financial and delivery system integration of behavioral health and primary care for Medicaid patients. To help guide this transition, early adopting regions will be closely watched by other regions to see what is working, understand challenges and determine what needs to be addressed before full integration rolls out in the rest of the state.

King County hopes to be one of those early adopters, implementing a proven care model that community health centers piloted for a small complex population in 2007. Implementation of the model resulted in $11. 3 million in hospital savings for the state as well as reduced inpatient medical admissions, decreases in the number of arrests, and smaller increases in the proportion of clients living in homeless shelters or outdoors.

To ensure King County’s success, community health centers are calling for funding for necessary infrastructure, such as care coordinators, consulting psychiatrists and technical support to simplify the sharing of health information with all providers involved in a patient’s care.

Encouragingly, the legislators I visited who represent King County expressed their support—I hope our message impacts their actions.

I understand that it’s a tough budget year for our state, but that’s why we put our trust in our legislators to step up to the challenge to make the right decisions. I encourage all my fellow Ballardites to call, email (http://www.savehealthcareinwa.org/), or send a letter to your legislators letting them know that health care is important to you and your community.

We shouldn’t accept trade-offs between health and other essential services. We need to make investments today to improve health, lower the costs of care and protect Washington’s future.

Megan Wildenradt lives in Ballard and serves as chair for HealthPoint’s board of directors. HealthPoint is a community-based, community-supported and community-governed network of non-profit health centers in King County dedicated to providing expert, high-quality care to all who need it, regardless of circumstances. healthpointchc.org

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