Better health an attainable goal for state

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, state Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-23rd District) argues Washington lawmakers can do more to make the state’s health care more accessible and affordable.

The owner of a new, small business in my neighborhood was recently injured in a car accident.

The married father of three suffered severe injuries and was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he was treated and released to recover at home.

He has no health insurance. Friends and loyal customers rallied quickly to help financially, opening an account at a local bank, organizing a silent auction and bake sale, volunteering to work at the business.

It was unclear what the medical expenses and lost income might mean to the family.

The situation — someone with serious health care needs and an inability to pay — is not uncommon for any of us.

As a state legislator, I get pulled in a lot of directions.

But the economic, emotional and social cost of healthcare and insurance is an issue that I hear about most often from people.

Absent leadership from Washington, D.C., every state is left to develop health-related policies for its citizens.

Each legislative session in Olympia brings debate about how to improve our state’s healthcare system, from the needs of our infants to the needs of our elders.

In 2008, the state Legislature stepped beyond partisan squabbling to order a comprehensive economic analysis of various healthcare reform ideas.

These included the Insurance Commissioner’s proposal for a guaranteed benefit plan as well as a look at regulations that hamper access to private insurance for small businesses and young adults.

The results of this work are due late this fall, with extensive public involvement to follow.

In the meantime, we also took a series of diverse steps last winter to improve access to health insurance, lower healthcare costs and improve the health of more of our residents.

The Aging in Place Act will help elderly and disabled people stay in their homes longer by providing respite care and training for family members; improving training and support for people caring for those with behavioral challenges; and expanding a fall prevention program for seniors.

The adoption of a model act for long-term care insurance will provide important protections for plan purchasers — reducing the strain on limited Medicaid resources and allowing for better consumer choices.

Changes to existing rules should make it easier for small employers to purchase health insurance coverage through the small group market, where there are more health plan options.

Continued progress toward the goal of making sure every child in the state has health care coverage will improve health outcomes for us all.

Almost 40 percent of Medicaid recipients smoke.

The Legislature adopted and funded a smoking-cessation program for people who qualify for state Medicaid.

A recent report from the nonprofit Washington Health Foundation ranked Washington the No. 10 “healthiest” state in the nation, based on a variety of indicators, and highlighted where we can make significant improvements.

It suggested that the more successful states are those with a health culture that combines “individual responsibility and collective action.”

The sustainable way to make quality healthcare more accessible is to make it more affordable.

The challenge is to do so while maintaining the high quality of care we also expect.

But the real goal should be to make Washington the healthiest state in the nation — with accessible, affordable, high-quality care when we need it — a state where entrepreneurs don’t have to make a choice between health insurance and start-up capital, and bake sales and fundraisers to pay for healthcare costs are unnecessary.

In Kitsap County we are fortunate to be expecting the expansion of Harrison Medical Center.

High-caliber urgent, primary and specialty care clinics in Silverdale and Poulsbo will improve access to healthcare for many of our residents and will contribute significantly to the economic diversification of the area.

As a state, though, we need to make sure all of our citizens can afford to be treated in these new facilities, and that with an emphasis on wellness and prevention, fewer of us will need them.

A medical catastrophe should not wipe out a family’s savings or put a company out of business — our safety net should be based on adequate coverage.

Washington state can be the healthiest state in the U.S.

This is a worthy, attainable goal.

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