With the Affordable Care Act to be implemented by the end of the year, health care providers and those who are advocating for preventative care are pushing legislators for a federally funded expansion of Medicaid in Washington state.
Hiroshi Nakano, the chief executive officer of South Sound Neurosurgery in Puyallup, is part of the movement.
Nakano was part of a contingent of Community Health Network of Washington providers, administrators and board members who visited with legislators Feb. 14 and advocated for the expansion.
“We were there to let them know that there is a need, and that there is support out there for expansion,” he said.
Nakano is a member of the board of directors for International Community Health Services, one of the state’s centers as part of the Community Health Network of Washington. About 70 people from 18 health centers statewide visited Olympia to talk to legislators earlier this month.
Molly Belozer Firth, the director of public policy at Community Health Network of Washington, said the organization is confident the argument for expanding Medicaid to 250,000 uninsured citizens in the state will prevail.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed and doing everything we can to convince everyone,” Firth said. “It’s a good thing for the state. When you can save money and cover more people, it’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Firth said a Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act made it unlawful for the federal government to force states to expand Medicaid, with the caveat that, if they did not, they would lose current Medicaid subsidies.
As the current law stands, the federal government funds half of the Medicaid costs at the state level.
If Washington state legislators decide to implement Medicaid expansion, the federal government will open up enrollment to those at 138 percent of the poverty level and fully pay for Medicaid for three years.
Starting in 2017, federal coverage will drop to 90 percent coverage. That level is expected to remain the same starting in 2020.
The federal poverty level is $11,500 for an individual, or $23,550 for a family of four. With Medicaid expansion, coverage would go to those who make $16,000 individually.
Firth said community health centers statewide serve 268,290 uninsured patients. Under Medicaid expansion, 170,000 patients served by community health centers would be eligible.
“These are the people we think will be eligible for Medicaid in 2014,” she said.
Firth said the state Legislature must take action.
“They have to, at a minimum, say when we get these federal funds to pay for medicaid expansion,” she said.
The 2013 legislative session is scheduled to finish at the end of April, and there is support from many legislators.
“We’ve worked with (Rep.) Dawn Morrell (D-Puyallup) for years on this,” Firth said. “Dawn is very engaged in this and very supportive.”
Firth said the Community Health Network’s visit to Olympia was an opportunity to show legislators the program’s benefits.
Expansion would trim $225 million from the state budget in the next biennium, according to state findings. It also would bring in nearly $1 billion in federal funds during the next two years and create more than 10,000 jobs.
“This is a savings to the state budget at a time when there is a strain on the budget,” Nakano said. “I will continue to advocate for more access to health care.”
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.