Expand Medicaid to save dollars and lives | Column

Dr. Kimberly McDermott - contributed photo
Dr. Kimberly McDermott
— image credit: contributed photo

More than 280,000 of our friends and neighbors in King County live without the security of health care coverage. The care that many of us take for granted, such as treatment for a sinus infection, provider visits to help manage diabetes, or exams for breast cancer detection, are luxuries to those without health care coverage.

I live in Bellevue and work as a physician at a nonprofit community health center in Redmond. Every year we see thousands of uninsured patients who are able to receive care on our sliding fee scale, but too many still go without care due to fear of the cost. These families are one illness or accident away from financial catastrophe.

But there is hope on the horizon. Our state has been offered an opportunity to provide more than 250,000 Washingtonians – an estimated 79,000 in King County – with access to preventive care through the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. According to a recent opinion poll, two-thirds of Washingtonians support this expansion believing it will help people in their communities.

They are right. If our state accepts the offer, a family of three making less than $27,000 per year who had previously fallen through the cracks would finally get the health care coverage they need.

The expansion of Medicaid also will help our state financially. For the first three years, the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the cost, then will taper and hold to a low of 90 percent. If our legislators say yes to this offer, it will bring in $1 billion of federal funds to pay for the increased coverage.

Welcoming the expansion is also projected to bring an estimated 10,000 jobs to our state, boosting tax revenues here in Bellevue as people have more to spend.

Sen. Rodney Tom, who represents part of Bellevue, has said he worries the federal government might “pull the rug entirely” in the future. But because the expansion is voluntary, there is no real risk to Washington and so much to gain. Governor Inslee has called the expansion “as close to a no-brainer as you get in state government.”

Giving people access to preventive health care promotes a healthier population that is more productive, makes families more secure, and leads to a stronger and more vital economy. Medicaid expansion is the clear choice for our state, and I strongly encourage our legislators to support it.

Kimberly McDermott, MD is a physician at HealthPoint, a Community Health Center providing medical and dental care, as well as complementary and alternative medical services, at 17 clinics throughout King County.


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