U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington. Terryl Asla/Kitsap News Group

Health care providers, elected officials: Investment in innovation pays off

By TERRYL ASLA

Kitsap News Group

BREMERTON – More than 600,000 Washingtonians have gained access to health care through the expansion of Medicaid, including about 20,000 people in Kitsap County.

Overall, more than 44,000 people in Kitsap County are covered through Medicaid and the related Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“Washington state’s success in reducing costs in the Medicaid program while improving health outcomes for patients stems from innovations in the delivery of health care,” according to the Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

“Washington state — as an early Medicaid innovator — has saved more than $2.5 billion over the past 15 years by transitioning people from more expensive nursing homes into less expensive home- and community-based care that helps them age in place — a process known as ‘re-balancing.’”

Local health care providers and elected officials believe that kind of success could be in jeopardy because of capitation — a proposed system of reimbursing health care providers that Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, said would reduce support for low-income and older Americans.

“Innovate, don’t capitate” was the theme of Cantwell’s visit with Kitsap-area healthcare providers, elected officials and others on March 11 at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the importance of Medicaid, as well as the possible effects of the plan put forward in Congress to cut and cap Medicaid and how it could affect Kitsap.

Participants included an array of healthcare leaders and area government officials.

Throughout the meeting, empirical and anecdotal evidence was presented demonstrating that, with sufficient resources, innovative and collaborative programs could save taxpayers far more money than the cost of the programs.

Much of that success comes from the creation of coalitions and the use of evidence-based programs. For example, when it came to homelessness, Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent pointed out that the city identified 50 of the most chronically homeless residents through statistical analysis and then set about finding out how to address the root problems, starting with the availability of housing.

With the Affordable Care Act, the rate of uninsured individuals coming to Harrison Medical Center’s emergency room is down, according to Dr. Karen Schindler, emergency room physician.

“There is a huge percentage of healthy people who need help navigating the health care system,” Schindler said.

Terryl Asla is a reporter for the Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at tasla@soundpublishing.com.

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