Local View: State needs more revenue to prevent health care cuts

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A health care crisis has been simmering in Clark County and across the state for the past few years. If you haven’t personally felt it yet, consider yourself lucky, but don’t gloat. We will all soon feel the pain if the Legislature doesn’t follow Gov. Chris Gregoire’s leadership and include new revenue to solve our budget deficit.

Without appropriate revenue, an all-cuts budget would eliminate Disability Lifeline, a vital program for people who are temporarily disabled. In Clark County, 397 people rely on it for the stability they need to get back into the job market and to stay off the streets, out of jail, and out the hospital. Cutting it would be a bad move for our community and the economy. New revenue would also protect Basic Health, which enables struggling working families to stay productive and manage their chronic conditions. If these two programs aren’t saved, it would mean nearly 3,000 people in Clark County losing their health coverage.

Unfortunately, the money problem doesn’t magically disappear if we cut these people out of the state budget. If you think these programs are an expensive way to care for low-income people, wait until we’re hit with the price tag for not providing primary care. A $150 primary care visit becomes a $16,000 inpatient hospital stay.

How does this affect you? Imagine you’re a heart attack victim waiting for ER care behind parents seeking help for their 1-year-old’s ear-ache. You can also expect your health insurance premiums to skyrocket as hospitals pass these costs on.

With a growing number of uninsured patients stretching the capacity of our community clinics in Clark County, it takes three months to get in for an appointment. Each of our family practice doctors sees an average of 21 patients a day, while dozens more sit in our lobbies, hoping for a cancellation. Many come in day after day to wait, until their condition becomes so bad that they give up and go to the emergency room. When you have no health insurance, you have no other option.

Hospitals stretched

Our local hospitals, such as Legacy Salmon Creek, are also stretched. Their volume has grown significantly for things that could be better taken care of in a primary care setting — chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma that become life-threatening problems when they’re not managed with a primary care doctor.

Recently, a patient called to cancel a clinic appointment she had that day. When we tried to reschedule, she said she’d lost her health care and couldn’t afford the appointment. She thought she was having a second stroke, but she wouldn’t go to the ER, either, because of the expense. It’s inhumane that people are making decisions that put their lives at risk because they can’t afford the health care they need. And state budget cuts will only make this scenario more common.

A necessity

Primary health care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. For people with chronic conditions, access to their doctor and medication not only sustains normality, it sustains their life. Without access to their insulin or heart medication, people will die.

In my years working in community health, I have never met a patient who does not want to be a productive member of the community. No one wants to be dependent. Helping people find and maintain health is a core component to achieving independence.

So I ask you to join me in urging our legislators to give voters a chance to save these programs. I believe that voters will choose to raise revenue to save lives and maintain healthy communities and a healthy state.

Carrie Vanzant is manager at SeaMar Vancouver Medical Clinic.