I recently participated in a community discussion on the topic of federal health care reform. The purpose of the event was to create a dialogue among community members and leaders about what health care reform means to Eastern Washington. It seems everyone is thinking about what health care reform will mean for their individual medical care and coverage, but what will it mean for our community?
The panelists came from diverse sectors — including hospitals, insurers, public health and small business — with the goal of sharing information, identifying opportunities for collaboration and discussing new models and best practices. Each had an interesting perspective to share.
One of the successful models discussed was the concept of patients having a health care home where they can receive all their health care in one location — including pharmacy, dental and mental health services. For more than four decades, Federally Qualified Health Centers have been providing a quality health care home accessible to the entire population, regardless of insurance or ability to pay. Thanks to additional funding in the reform package, community health centers will play a greater role in health care. The national network of health centers currently serves 19 million patients a year.
Also at the forum, a Providence Health Care representative spoke about new health care reform regulations. The expansion of coverage is substantial and is expected to increase accessibility for 30 million people in our country. The goals are lower costs, improved quality, increased accessibility and convenience to advance the overall health of the entire community.
Health care reform will move us closer to greater alignment between affordability and quality. Those with pre-existing conditions will be able receive stable care and have more choices. Single mothers who have had to choose between care for themselves or their family can choose both. Those with insurance but who cannot afford their deductibles can receive necessary treatment. Young adults who are unable to support themselves can remain on their parents’ plan longer than before. Those who previously went to the emergency room for conditions such as diabetes, asthma or other avoidable reasons can prevent these visits through consistent primary care. These changes save all of us money in the long run.
The health care industry is about to experience significant growth in the coming years due to increased demand brought about by a growing need for more access. This increased number of patients means more jobs for our community. We are facing a future physician shortage, particularly among general practitioners. Health care reform could have an impact on employment for the entire population, even beyond the hiring of medical professionals. Individuals who previously needed to select employment based on the benefits they would receive can now work in the profession of their choosing — without needing to consider the corresponding level of health coverage. The newly changed employment landscape has the potential to create a better community on many levels.
Discussion will likely continue for years, but in the meantime there are more questions than answers. What we do know is that communication and collaboration will be essential to moving forward within our communities. A significant segment of our population will finally receive the quality care and affordable coverage they need, leading to a healthier and more productive community and a positive economic impact in the form of more jobs.
CHAS is a non-profit system of medical and dental clinics. Its mission is to improve the overall health of the communities its serves by expanding access to quality health and wellness services. Currently CHAS operates six clinics — three in Spokane, one in Spokane Valley, one in Deer Park and one in Lewiston, Idaho. Check out chas.org to learn more about the services and facilities offered by CHAS.