By John McDonald
Rising insurance premiums and dwindling options in market exchanges have made the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) a popular target for critics.
Many politicians pointed to the Healthcare Marketplace health plan pulling out of Pinal County, Arizona. They called it a healthcare disaster and the media sounded the alarm about the failed promises of Obamacare. President-elect Donald Trump ran on the promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but it will not happen any time soon and the marketplace is enrolling people now. Unbiased and bilingual assisters are available to help through Jan. 31 at 800-377-3536.
The purpose of the Affordable Care Act has always been to provide access to healthcare. In Pinal County, there are multiple health plan options through Blue Cross Blue Shield offering Gold, Silver and Bronze plans, each with different co-payments, deductibles, premiums and levels of coverage.
Another solid option for people in Pinal County is Sun Life Family Health Center. Sun Life patients can be assured they will receive high-quality, affordable primary care, regardless of their health insurance status. Sun Life operates 11 sites in Pinal County, and in four of those communities they are the only primary care provider.
We need to change the conversation about health care. Insurance coverage and access to affordable healthcare are vastly different topics. Insurance coverage is affected by premium hikes and insurers who exit the Healthcare Marketplace. Changes with insurers has triggered negative slogans about health care, but when it comes to access, Community Health Centers are the beacon of light for many who need access to high quality, affordable healthcare.
Let’s be clear: health care is about more than an insurance card. People also need a medical home.
Arizona has over 150 community health center sites providing care to over 611,255 Arizonans, 17 percent of whom are uninsured. Community Health Centers serve patients with group insurance, Marketplace insurance, Medicaid and Medicare. Services are also provided on a sliding fee scale, based on income, to the uninsured and underinsured.
Affordable healthcare for many like me is a moral imperative but, it’s also a sound public investment. I doubt there is any program that has delivered more in terms of saving both lives and taxpayer dollars over the course of over half a century. The community health care system saves $24 billion a year in reduced ER visits and hospitalizations because health centers efficiently manage and treat chronic disease, even among the most economically disadvantaged populations. Changes in insurance plans may create barriers to care, but health centers remain anchored in their communities.
Even with growing public support for health centers there is no guarantee for long-term funding to support our continued expansion in medically underserved areas. It is up to Congress to extend mandatory funding for health centers, which expires next year. Funding cuts to health centers may result in fewer primary care providers and fewer health center locations. Such an outcome would pose a hardship for people with scarce insurance options.
If insurers are taking flight, we would be wise to continue investing in a proven healthcare model of care for all Americans.
John C. McDonald is CEO of the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, which represents over 150 health center sites throughout Arizona.