Local news

Face Time: Ralph DeCristoforo

MONDAY, JUNE 15, 2009

Spokane-based health advocate talks about the effects of Washington’s plan to trim Basic Health insurance costs

Last week, Washington health officials announced a plan to reduce the number of people receiving the state’s Basic Health insurance plan by shifting some onto Medicaid and raising the premiums for others. The action came after the Legislature determined the state can no longer afford to provide Basic Health insurance to nearly 100,000 state residents, including about 7,500 in Spokane County. To determine what this means for some of the state’s poorest residents, The Spokesman-Review spoke to Ralph DeCristoforo, Health for All project coordinator for Community Minded Enterprises, a nonprofit organization that connects people to social services.

Q:How many people in Spokane County will be affected?

A:It could adversely impact all 5,600 households on Basic Health, as well as the 3,000 households in Spokane County on the Basic Health waiting list.

Q:Are these changes in Basic Health fair? They appear to have targeted those least able to pay.

A:It’s the fairest of the choices that were there. What’s fair? Do we take the people who have been on Basic Health the longest, who have dedicated themselves to making their premiums and keeping their health care up? Do we cut the people off who just got on? Or do we do a lottery system, in which case you may catch people who are in the middle of dialysis or cancer treatment? The goal was not to forcibly remove anyone.

Q:What happens to people who can’t afford the increase in premiums?

A:If they can’t pay their premiums, we’re telling them: too bad, so sad. There are some sponsorship programs across the state, but with this doubling of premiums, are they going to be able to help out? We are in hard times, but in Spokane County we do have community resources. You can find out by calling the Health for All hotline: (509) 444-3066 or (866) 444-3066.

Q:What effect will these cuts have on the safety-net clinics?

A:Many of the people on Basic Health are more than likely already clients of those clinics, so the clinics will no longer get their payments and will lose funds. Where it’s really impacting is at the emergency rooms. Holy Family Hospital’s ER is used the most for primary care of the uninsured.

Q:What are the long-term solutions and what’s doable?

A:We need to increase and fully utilize Basic Health to the full intent and definition of insurance. The larger the pool, the better off it is. At the national level, the big insurance owners and the pharmaceutical industry are pushing to more or less keep health care a commodity rather than the social support it is for a strong economy. The state of Washington needs to recognize we have never waited for a national answer; we can’t wait for it now. If we are backing off of Basic Health, our citizens will literally be dying before there’s a national solution.

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