Medicaid expansion: an offer we should not refuse | GUEST OP

By Chad Horner
For the Reporter

Good health — like education, housing, and economic opportunity — is essential for a strong community. When people can't get health care, the consequences affect us all.

In King County, good health is out of reach for an estimated 280,000 people who do not have health insurance and access to preventive care. Too often they are forced to bypass treatment for illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions because of the cost. Inevitably they turn to more expensive emergency rooms when they have reached a crisis point.

These individuals pay a hefty price with their health. The rest of society pays a high price as well. The Office of the Insurance Commissioner estimates that the average insured family pays approximately $1,100 a year in the form of a hidden tax to cover care for the uninsured.

Providing people with access to affordable, primary care is a better formula. This is why I recently traveled to Olympia to advocate for the expansion of Medicaid. The State of Washington has an unprecedented opportunity under the Affordable Care Act to provide 250,000 people statewide — about 79,000 in King County — with health care coverage. The newly eligible are individuals who make up to $16,000 a year or $27,000 for a family of three, households that currently have no viable options for health insurance.

Expanding Medicaid will ensure continued coverage for working adults who have lost their jobs, taken a pay cut, or returned from military service. Thousands will finally receive vaccinations, mental health services and regular check-ups for conditions such as diabetes. It will mean healthier parents and secure, thriving families.

Many state legislators I spoke to are supportive of the Medicaid expansion. They recognize that it's a wise decision from a humanitarian and economic standpoint. A recent opinion poll shows that two-thirds of Washingtonians agree that it will benefit their communities.

Expansion will provide nearly $1 billion in new federal funds to Washington in the next two years and create an estimated 10,000 jobs in our state. With more employed people comes an increase in local tax revenues and a boost to our local Kent economy. Medicaid expansion will also mean savings in the state budget of approximately $225 million in the next two years.

Some legislators may consider walking away from these funds—federal taxes that we have already paid—which instead will pay for health care in other states. They worry about what the federal government might do in the future. But the federal government has agreed to cover 100 percent of the cost of the expansion and gradually decreasing to 90 percent thereafter. The opportunity to cover so many more of our neighbors with basic health care, under those terms, should not be lost due to the inability to know the future with certainty. This is a good deal now.

It's time for our state legislators to work together and seize this historic opportunity to keep families, communities and businesses strong.

Chad Horner is the chair of HealthPoint's Board of Directors and a partner at Curran Law Firm in Kent. HealthPoint is a Community Health Center, providing medical and dental care, as well as complementary and alternative medical services, at 17 clinics throughout King County, including Kent. To learn more, visit www.healthpointchc.org.

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