In Our View: Health Care's Human Touch

While important, numbers are trumped by the effect decisions have on people

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It is tempting, when it comes to discussing health care, to believe that the numbers tell the story.

Friday's announcement that the state had approved a contract that will allow Columbia United Providers to continue serving Medicaid patients in Clark County directly impacts 47,000 local residents — more than 10 percent of the county's population. It's a large number, indeed, one that will reach into all corners of Southwest Washington.But as the county and the state and the nation continue to wrestle with the issues and the costs of providing health care services to our most needy citizens, the most important aspect of moving forward will be to look beyond the numbers. To look beyond statistics. To remember that such percentages remove the very real human impact of large-scale decisions involving health care.

Those 47,000 people aren't a number. They are neighbors and friends and classmates. They largely are low-income women and children. And they are the kinds of people most in need of adequate health care. With that in mind, it is difficult to view Friday's announcement as anything but a win-win-win for patients, providers, and taxpayers.

Washington's Health Care Authority had announced in January that it would not renew its contracts with CUP and Community Health Plan of Washington, which serves an additional 3,000 Medicaid patients locally. Instead, the state had decided to contract with two other health plans to serve Clark County.

The idea was that the state would save money, something that always is worthy of consideration in these days of incessant belt-tightening. That premise was complicated when the two new plans were unable to meet the terms of their contract, failing to establish a network with enough providers to care for the county's entire Medicaid population of about 65,000 people.

All of that is bureaucratic maneuvering, and it is important. But it removes the focus of the issue from where it should be — on the health of those being served. The state's initial decision to cut ties with Columbia United Providers, a Vancouver-based health insurance plan owned by PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, had left patients wondering where they would find new doctors and wondering whether their treatment plans would be altered.

It left people unsure of their health care, which is antithetical to the entire notion of insurance.

Instead, CUP worked with providers to negotiate lower reimbursement rates, with decreases ranging from 10 to 30 percent. That will provide the state with some of the savings it was seeking. CUP also will receive a lower premium, as it will be split with Community Health Plan.

The result is that people will be able to retain their current providers. The result is a sense of security for those who are most in need of it.

As the nation continues to move forward in the debate over health care, that must remain the overriding concern. As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, continues to be implemented, decisions must be made in favor of patients.

For some people, that might not sound like a fiscally responsible way of doing business. Until you consider that, as in the case with Washington's decision regarding CUP, providing adequate health care for children now can help reduce health care costs in the future.

Those are the kinds of numbers that can please everybody.