November 24, 2009

Think health care system is okay? Take a look at Washington’s Basic Health Plan, visit a community clinic

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Anyone who thinks our health care system doesn’t need an overhaul hasn’t looked at Washington state’s Basic Health Plan lately. Or visited a clinic like Country Doctor Community Clinic on Capitol Hill, where I was yesterday afternoon.

rita_hibbardwebAnd anyone on the waiting list for the Basic Health Plan – now bigger than the number actually enrolled – must not have been among those polled to make Washington the seventh happiest state in the country, according to a Gallup Poll. But that’s another story.

About 80,000 people are now waiting to get on Basic Health, the state’s subsidized plan for the working poor. About 65,000 people are currently enrolled in the plan, paying an average of $34 a month, with the state paying the remaining 85 percent of the premiums. Beginning in January, members will pay an average of $60 a month, or 25 percent of the total premium.

Already, budget cuts have forced tens of thousands of people off Basic Health. And because it receives no federal dollars, the program faces even deeper cuts with the $2.6 billion budget gap the state now faces. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has inserted an amendment in the Senate health care reform bill that would rescue the plan, but even if that bill passes, the money wouldn’t flow until 2014, Kyung M. Song of the Seattle Times reports.

In Congress, Cantwell has inserted an amendment in the Senate bill that would allow Washington and other states to collect federal dollars to provide health coverage to families earning between 133 percent and 200 percent of the poverty level ($24,350 to $36,620 a year for a three-person household). The measure was modeled after the Basic Health Plan and meant to enable states to purchase coverage from commercial health insurers.

Cantwell said Monday that she would favor raising the income eligibility for Basic Health-like plans to 300 percent of the poverty level. For higher-income people, both the Senate and the House health-care bills call for allowing them to buy coverage through a public plan sold directly by the government.

Through a program that I do some volunteer work for, Companis, I spent some time yesterday at the Country Doctor Community Clinic on Capitol Hill, which treats many of the uninsured, working poor. “The baristas who serve you your coffee,” the clinic operations director explained. As a health reporter back in the 1980s, I also spent some time at Country Doctor. The issues, unfortunately, are the same. How to provide care for the working poor, those who have jobs, but no health coverage, who without programs like the Basic Health Plan and clinics like Country Doctor, would be in the emergency rooms, or among the 45,000 people who die every year simply because they have no insurance.

Companis helps out by placing volunteer nurses and other health care providers in the clinic and at other nonprofit agencies in need. Yesterday, we were talking about a placement for Ellen, a caring nurse who has given a lifetime of service, and who, 10 days into her retirement, wants to continue to “give back” to the community.

What can the rest of us do to help?

— Rita Hibbard

One thought on “Think health care system is okay? Take a look at Washington’s Basic Health Plan, visit a community clinic

  1. Seattle Radical Women has called a “call in” for today (Dec. 10) International Human Rights Day, because health care is a human right.

    Governor’s budget now cuts everyone off Basic Health. It’s outrageous! With 900,000 residents lacking health care, we need more access – not less!

    Furthermore, Gregoire is threatening increased taxes, but will they be the right ones? Washington has the most regressive tax structure in the United States! The poorest members of the population pay 17% of their income in taxes while the wealthiest pay 3% of their income in taxes. This must change. We need a steeply graduated income tax on the rich!

    Please call key state officials and tell them to fully fund Basic Health. They can pay for the plan and other services by changing the tax structure!

    Please call today (Thurs.):
    Gov. Christine Gregoire — 360-902-4111
    Sen. Karen Keiser — 360-786-7664 / 800-562-6000
    Health & Long-Term Care Committee Chair
    Rep. Eileen Cody — 360-786-7978 / 800-562-6000
    Health Care & Wellness Committee Chair

    Urge them to:
    * Repeal cuts to the Basic Health plan budget, and reverse the increases to rates and deductibles.
    * Extend the program to cover the 900,000 uninsured residents of Washington State.
    * Pay for the plan and all social services by taxing the income of the wealthy and profits of large corporations.