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Expanding Medicaid in our state will save money, lives


Last June, the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act gave states the option of deciding whether or not to move forward with full Medicaid expansion to ensure coverage for their lowest income residents. Our state legislature will make that decision during the upcoming legislative session. I’ve heard a lot of misrepresentations about what Medicaid expansion will do for our state in these past few weeks, and I want to set the record straight.

One of the first and most important facts about moving forward with Medicaid is that it will absolutely save our state money — $120 million from 2014 to 2020. In a time of budget crisis, when family planning has been on the chopping block and eight Planned Parenthood health centers have been shut down throughout the state, this is crucial. The women who come to see us here at Mount Baker Planned Parenthood rely on our lifesaving cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and well-woman exams for their health and safety.

How does it save money? The federal government is paying for the full cost to move forward over the next three years, and their contribution will taper to 90 percent of the cost after that, which is a bargain compared to the 50 percent match we get for our existing Medicaid program.

If we forgo that money — money we’ve already spent due to our federal tax dollars — we are basically giving away Washington’s chance at expanding health care to more vulnerable people in our communities to California and Florida. We must expand Medicaid, so we can put that $120 million into education, jobs, and to ensure women do not have to travel across numerous counties to visit one of our health centers because of more cuts.

Second, our state values giving everyone an equal opportunity to lead healthy, productive lives. But if you’re one of the roughly 25,000 people in Whatcom County without health coverage, that opportunity is compromised. The 20 percent of people who would be eligible for Medicaid expansion are families who are working but aren’t making more than $26,000, or an individual who makes $15,000. In our county, that’s 7,500 people. Maybe that’s your barista, the person you see every day who makes you a delicious hot latte. Do you really want her denied the chance to get preventive health care from a private doctor and forced to go to the emergency room?

Third, our doctors and nurse practitioners are ready and willing to accept Medicaid and provide care to the newly covered. As reproductive health care specialists, you can count on us to continue providing quality, affordable care — no matter what. Many other providers will be ready, too, as this improvement in Medicaid comes with the biggest investment in primary care in the last 40 years. More nurses and doctors will be trained and ready for you and your family for preventive personal care, and with the increased payments, more doctors will make themselves available to Medicaid patients.

Finally, Washington State is ready for the expansion. We shouldn’t let scare tactics from extremists stop us from taking advantage of the great opportunity to protect 261,000 of the most vulnerable in our state. Because the expansion is voluntary, there is no real risk for Washington and so much to gain. Expanding Medicaid will giving our working families access to affordable health care, which makes us all more secure and leads to a better economy. If our state legislators have all the facts, it should be a clear choice for them to make.

Linda McCarthy is chief executive officer of Mount Baker Planned Parenthood in Bellingham. This column originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald and is posted here with the author’s permission.

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