Many of us take for granted that when we’re ill or injured, we can find a doctor or dentist to help. We may not be aware of the struggles that some families in Bothell experience when they decide whether they can afford to seek care — but our community health centers see the difference that having insurance coverage makes every single day.
Since Medicaid coverage was expanded in our state to provide health insurance to an additional 600,000 people over the past three years, more patients than ever before have had the support they need to seek treatment.
But their peace of mind has been short lived. With talk of undoing health care reform, we are facing the prospect of unravelling all of the progress we’ve made in Washington to care for those who most need our support.
Terms like “health care safety net” can sometimes seem overly complicated, but the idea behind it is common sense. Those people in our communities who are vulnerable should be able to rely on health care that is accessible and affordable. Have you heard the phrase “we are only as strong as our weakest link?” By protecting the health of others, we increase the health of our communities as a whole.
One of my responsibilities at HealthPoint is to ensure our clinics have the right equipment and supplies, therefore helping to lay a foundation that helps our patients get well and stay well. The expansion of Medicaid has provided a similar, strong baseline of support for patient health.
Our state representatives need to hear that securing our community’s health care safety net is a priority.
While insurance coverage through Medicaid is essential, it doesn’t guarantee that underserved families can access a clinic or doctor to use that insurance. There are two investments the legislature can make this year to start bridging the gap between coverage and care.
The first is to make more money available for loan repayment to providers who choose to work in community health centers that serve low-income populations. The Health Professional Loan Repayment Program is critical for us to attract primary care providers, including dentists and behavioral health specialists, while helping them address their significant debt from medical school.
The second investment would address our state’s oral health crisis. In the first year of our Bothell dental clinic we had 7,166 visits, and in the second year that skyrocketed to 13,246 visits. This exponential growth in just one location is indicative of the high demand for dental services that we see across Washington. Community health centers have plans for 25 new and expanded dental clinics across the state, but need additional state funding to make them a reality and bring oral health to tens of thousands more people.
Those families who are most in need are counting on us. Please advocate for the health of our community by raising your voice to protect Medicaid coverage and build on the advances we’ve made.
Pamela Tuggle-Miles is a Bothell resident and a Health Systems Administrator at HealthPoint, a non- profit community health center that operates 12 medical and dental clinic locations throughout King County, including Bothell. HealthPoint has a Board of Directors comprised of mroe than 50 percent “consumer” Board members, defined as people who are patients of that health center.