SOURCE: Community Health Network of Washington and WA Association of Community and Migrant Health Centers

February 05, 2015 11:00 ET

Washington's Community Health Centers Urge Legislators to Build on Health Care Investments

OLYMPIA, WA--(Marketwired - February 05, 2015) - Staff and volunteer board members from 23 of Washington's non-profit community health centers are at the Washington State Capitol today to advocate for preserving health care safety net programs that serve as a lifeline for their patients. They will also ask legislators to move beyond a status quo budget to fully realize the health care promises the state has already made.

"Nearly half a million people are newly insured with the expansion of Medicaid, which in turn fosters health, protects lives and saves the state money," said Molly Belozer Firth, director of public policy at Community Health Network of Washington. "But these recent health care gains have only come after years of devastating cuts. It's time to get health care funding off this roller coaster. We shouldn't accept trade-offs between health and other essential services."

"Community health centers are at the forefront of providing care to the newly insured and the many who are still uninsured in our state," said Mary Looker, CEO of the Washington Association of Community and Migrant Health Centers. "We are facing challenges to meet that demand. We need more providers for patients seeking care, with effective strategies and tools to provide care across systems. Investments are needed to ensure the right care at the right time in the right place, delivering better health outcomes and lower costs."

These are the specific priorities that health centers are supporting:

Protection of Existing Health Care Safety Net Programs
Washingtonians are finally getting relief and security through affordable health care coverage. Community health centers are asking legislators to protect the many programs critical to the primary care safety net -- including Medicaid, maternity support services and interpreter services. The full range of Medicaid benefits, such as adult dental which was recently restored, is essential to their patients' health.

Community Health Center Funding from Marijuana Revenues
The Affordable Care Act has significantly increased the number of people covered with health insurance, but there are still many uninsured visiting community health centers. For many years, the community health centers received direct grant funding from the state as part of its commitment to serving the uninsured, but funding was suspended in 2011. Community health centers are calling on the Legislature to direct 5% of the marijuana tax and licensure revenues to community health centers, as Initiative 502 requires, to provide primary health and dental care services, migrant health services, and maternity health care services.

Expansion of the State's Health Professional Loan Repayment Program
The state's Health Professional Loan Repayment Program is a critical tool for workforce recruitment and retention in underserved urban and rural areas in Washington State. In 2010, the program was cut dramatically, and there are nearly 180 vacant positions for health professions in the community health centers, including more than 80 vacant positions for physicians. Community health centers are asking the Legislature to invest $8 million to expand loan repayment.

Behavioral Health Integration in Primary Care
With a large percentage of low-income patients experiencing mental health and/or chemical dependency issues along with medical conditions, community health centers have been working to integrate behavioral health and physical health in the primary care setting using efficient and effective care models. Washington State has laid out a path to financially integrate physical health and behavioral health, but community health centers are calling for delivery system integration as well. They are asking the Legislature to invest $11.9 million to support the necessary infrastructure-such as care coordinators, consulting psychiatrists and shared care plans-for King County to adopt this model.

Affordability and Continuity of Coverage Analysis
Despite the recent coverage expansions, many Washingtonians remain uninsured. Some may find coverage still too expensive, while others may not qualify for any available coverage options. To better understand the financial barriers to health coverage for Washington residents community health centers are calling on the Legislature to create a Continuity of Coverage Task Force to evaluate coverage gaps and to procure a study to evaluate affordability of coverage options.

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