They say that tough times call for tough measures. So when the state made drastic cuts to its Basic Health Plan earlier this year, many believed that it was an unfortunate, but necessary move to balance our budget. Now, with the state facing a deficit of over $2 billion, health care advocates fear that Basic Health and other health programs will be on the chopping block once more.

The state budget crisis places Basic Health and the people who rely on this vital safety net in a precarious position yet again. Earlier this year the program, which provides subsidized health coverage for working families, implemented several cost-cutting measures to deal with a $255 million reduction in their budget. Basic Health eliminated coverage for dually-enrolled members, increased premiums for current members, and essentially ceased processing new applications. At the same time, the state’s uninsured is increasing at a fast pace; and already, the number of people waiting to apply for Basic Health coverage outnumbers those currently on the rolls.

ICHS Director Teresita Batayola, left,  and Senator Maria Cantwell at the Nov. 23 tour of ICHS and Basic Health discussion.
ICHS Director Teresita Batayola, left, and Senator Maria Cantwell at the Nov. 23 tour of ICHS and Basic Health discussion.

Even though federal health care reform is almost in sight, new policies and funding will not come soon enough for Washington residents who are at risk of losing their coverage or who are unable to get coverage now, especially if Governor Gregoire proposes eliminating Basic Health altogether.

On a Nov. 23 tour of International Community Health Services’ (ICHS’) facilities, Senator Maria Cantwell spoke with representatives from a coalition of community organizations working together to preserve Basic Health. Cantwell recently added an amendment to the Senate health care reform bill to assist states in establishing and paying for programs like Basic Health. Heralded as a model for the nation, the Basic Health Plan provides access to affordable preventive care for its enrollees, which drive down the cost of treatment for preventable conditions and emergency room utilization.

For community health centers like ICHS, Basic Health and its emphasis on prevention is at the core of how it provides affordable care. With Basic Health, patients are able to establish a “health care home” with a trusted provider. They can monitor their health regularly and get connected with other services they may need. Without Basic Health, patients are likely to put off preventive care until they develop serious and more expensive conditions. When that happens, the burden of the cost is shouldered by the community health centers, which are federally mandated to provide care to anyone seeking services. With over 40 percent of its patients on Basic Health and at risk of losing their coverage, ICHS faces a bleak future if state lawmakers decide to make even more cuts in the program.

In the upcoming weeks, there will be opportunities to speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our community. Urge your representatives to find other means to raise revenue and to protect the programs that serve as a vital safety net for Washington’s working families. Go to the Save Health Care in Washington Web site (www.savehealthcareinwa.org) to find out more about what you can do to help.

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