The wrong targets at the wrong time

One year ago this week, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which laid out a comprehensive list of reforms to assist millions of Americans in getting the health care they deserve.

In a cruel twist, more than 23,000 individuals in our own community m

ay soon lose all or a portion of their health insurance, as our Legislature debates the fate of funding for programs such as Basic Health as a means to address the budget shortfall.

These individuals include those struggling with crippling mental illness and chronic conditions like diabetes that make them unable to work. The Legislature might even eliminate Disability Lifeline — even though a recent study of the program shows that it actually saves the state money in caring for a historically expensive population.

These are the very programs that the Affordable Care Act and its historic health care reform measures were designed to support, but they are on the brink of elimination by our state leaders. It makes no sense to dismantle the infrastructure of these services while they are beginning to receive federal funding and at a time when they are desperately needed.

Recent unemployment figures in Washington may lead to hopes for a brightening future, but unfortunately Snohomish County is not faring as well. The state rate for January dropped to 9.1 percent while the rate for Snohomish County swelled to 10.2 percent. The county rate grew again, to 10.3 percent, in February.

We may have also breathed a collective sigh of relief over the good news of the recent Boeing tanker contract award, but the benefit to all layers of our community is not equitable. The majority of those to be hired by Boeing will be skilled workers. Tens of thousands will remain unemployed and underemployed and, thus, uninsured.

Even if our region begins to see a significant recovery in the coming months and year, the percentage of those in our community at the federal poverty level (a family of four earning less than $22,050) actually varies little from year to year. In the words of Sister Dorothy Klingele, a local health care leader who helped found Community Health Center of Snohomish County, “The poor will always be with us.” These are the most vulnerable individuals in our county and those that Community Health Center of Snohomish County and community health centers around our state strive to serve.

The proposed cuts to health care for working families and disabled individuals are also coming at a time when Basic Health and Disability Lifeline, previously only funded by the state, are receiving matching funds from the federal government. Through the Affordable Care Act, Washington state was granted a Medicaid waiver, which brought in $1.4 million in federal funding in the last two months alone. These funds preserved insurance coverage for more than 5,200 Snohomish County residents.

But if our state legislators follow through with an all-cuts budget and dismantle Basic Health and Disability Lifeline, this federal funding goes away. This will severely impact the ability of community health centers across the state to keep their doors open to provide the care that people need to stay working, healthy and out of emergency rooms.

In just one year, we have seen some remarkable progress with national health care reform, including not allowing children to be denied coverage, allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plans longer, and filling in the Medicare prescription donut hole. And in just three more years, we will realize the coverage expansions that take effect in 2014. We cannot let Basic Health and Disability Lifeline fall by the wayside before we get there. They are the bridge that tens of thousands so desperately need right now.

Bob Farrell is chief financial officer of Community Health Center of Snohomish County.

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