The sudden announcement that Adventist General Hospital was closing sent a shock wave through Walla Walla recently. An unwelcome reminder of the precariousness of our healthcare system and how vulnerable we are when systems fail. Walla Walla General Hospital was hardly what you could call a failure, having served eastern Washingtonians since 1899, which is why it can rattle to the core when pillars of the community like this fall. After 118 years, two world wars, the great depression, and a fluctuating local economy, even Walla Walla General could buckle and fold in the wake of an upside-down economy. What’s happening in Walla Walla’s healthcare industry may be only the precursor to what’s in store under the GOP health plan, should it pass. Which is why it’s so important to understand what’s at risk.
Rather than recap a full explanation of each part of the bill, especially as it begins to morph ever so slightly over the upcoming days and weeks, here’s a look at how losing the Affordable Care Act and major cuts to Medicaid could affect healthcare in Walla Walla and the surrounding eastern Washington counties, which groups are most at risk and what might need to prepare ourselves for in the upcoming years.
Benefits of Medicaid Expansion in Washington Since 2014:
- 790,000 Washingtonians Received Coverage Under ACA & Medicaid or Medicaid Expansion:
- 600,000 New Low-Income & Working-Class Washington Residents
- 190,000 New Enrollees Through Washington State Health Plan Finder
- 20,000 People Received Cancer Treatment
- 30,000 People Previously without Coverage Treated for Substance Abuse & Mental/Behavioral Disorders
- Uninsured Rates Dropped by 58%
- 51,000 New Jobs Created in the Health Care & Services Industry in Washington State
The impact of Medicaid Expansion Cuts In Washington State:
- Approximately 600,000 lower income people currently covered under Medicaid expansion stand to lose coverage, 80% of whom are working families.
- Due to the age-based addition to subsidy requirements (rather than income-based alone) under the Senate BCRA bill, approximately 100,000 people, mostly seniors will be forced to drop individual market health insurance plans due to lack of affordability.
- It will cost Washington State $351 million biannually to reinstate and fund former state programs currently covered under ACA.
Impact On Healthcare in Walla Walla Under BCRA:
- 30% of people are covered under Medicaid in Walla Walla, 12.5-15.2% under Medicaid expansion.
- 76% of low-income children are covered by Medicaid programs, including special education and speech pathology programs for kids with disabilities.
- In Washington State, approximately 24,000 veterans and their spouses stand to lose Medicaid coverage under the current Senate health care
- The Walla Walla VA’s new Medicaid/Care-Certified Veteran’s Home services 10 counties, 50,000 Veterans, and 20,000 seniors over 65.
- Many of these veterans and their spouses are low-income and subsidized under Medicaid.
- 64% of all nursing home residents use Medicaid
Healthcare/Social Service Jobs:
- Approximately 51,000 jobs created by Medicaid expansion in Washington state are at risk under the new Senate Healthcare bill.
- The 2nd Largest Industry in Walla Walla is Healthcare & Social Services in the private sector.
- In 2016, healthcare and social services made up about 16.1% of local jobs. That’s roughly 3362 jobs in health care alone.
- Walla Walla General/Adventist Health services closures put 439 full or part time health care professionals out of work, approximately 1/3 of what St. Mary’s/ Providence Healthcare currently employs (1,153 employees).
- Only around 50 Health Care-related job postings are listed through Providence currently, leaving many already out of work or underemployed.
Although precise statistic is hard to gauge, with statewide cuts to ACA/Medicaid expansion jobs, 80% less funding for Walla Walla’s Planned Parenthood services, Adventist Health/ general hospital closures, and an already existing shortage of primary care providers, the local workforce and patient resources for Walla Walla could be severely impacted.
These shortages would mean far fewer services available than in previous years and in addition to paying more for less health coverage, access to primary care would be even harder to find. And if you get sick, become disabled or grow old, have a baby, are a low-income worker, or underemployed, there may be little to no affordable or adequate access to care available at all.
There are more unpleasant surprises lurking in the Senate BCRA bill as well. These are just the highlights for those of us here in the easternmost part of Washington State. If you or someone you know will be negatively impacted by this health care bill, please call your congressional district representative (CD5), Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and Washington state senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray today and tell them to vote No on this bill. Whatever problems may exist under the Affordable Care Act certainly aren’t worth risking the lives and health of 22 Million or more Americans, and locally we need to keep our health care industry robust, well-funded, and fully employed.
Letitia C. Page