By Latanda Madden
HealthPoint Tukwila Medical
Going to the doctor or dentist isn’t many people’s favorite thing. But when we’re ill, injured or worried about our health, most of us can take great comfort that we’re here to help. For many people in our region and across the state, that comfort is a new experience, enabled by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the expansion of Medicaid coverage. In fact, 600,000 Washingtonians gained health insurance through Medicaid, many for the first time in years, or ever.
But that peace of mind has been short lived. With talk of undoing health care reform, panic has set in with many of our patients, who worry that their insurance coverage may go away. It’s not an exaggeration to say that not only peace of mind, but the health of our communities, is at stake.
As a result of gaining Medicaid coverage through the ACA, a patient of ours came in for a screening that detected early stage cancer. Because he had insurance, he was able to get the treatment he needed and beat his cancer. Without Medicaid, it would likely have gone undetected much longer, and without access to treatment, it would have continued to progress.
There are countless more stories of people who owe their health to Medicaid. It’s hard to imagine taking that coverage away.
We all need to speak up to our state and federal policy makers to ensure these health care advances are protected.
And while insurance coverage is essential, it doesn’t guarantee you can get the care you need. We’re facing a shortage of primary care providers and dental clinics for underserved populations.
At HealthPoint Tukwila Medical Clinic, we’ve stretched our workforce to deliver 30 percent more patient visits since 2013. Dental capacity statewide hasn’t kept up with demand, resulting in only one in five Medicaid patients receiving dental care last year.
So while we’re working hard to preserve gains in coverage, we must make sure that those who have insurance have access to a clinic 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, vulnerable populations.
The Health Professional Loan Repayment Program is critical for us to attract primary care providers, including dentists and behavioral health specialists, while enabling them to tackle their tremendous medical school debt.
The second investment would address our state’s oral health crisis. In January, our new Tukwila Dental Clinic wasn’t able to accommodate 190 adults who needed care, so we’re expanding to 10 hours a day to meet the high demand. 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.
No one’s health can be put on hold while politicians debate. Please advocate for the health of our community — protecting and building on coverage and access to care.
Latanda Madden is the health center manager of HealthPoint Tukwila Medical. HealthPoint is a non-profit community health center that operates 12 medical and dental clinic locations throughout King County and has a Board of Directors comprised of more than 50 percent “consumer” board members — defined as people who are patients of that health center.