Editor’s note: Today’s guest editorial was written by Dian Cooper, CEO of Cowlitz Family Health Center. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

I am calling on our Congressional delegation, including Representative Herrera Beutler, to make long-term funding for healthcare programs a priority this year. We cannot continue wondering if our state’s most vulnerable populations – like children – will have access to the vital health programs they need.

Let’s back up for a second. Last year was a challenging year for health centers across the country, including our health center, Cowlitz Family Health Center, here in Cowlitz County. Administrators, providers, and patients were in a constant state of worry about the real possibility of a reduction in funding that would prevent people from getting the healthcare they need. Threats to Medicaid were a constant, and even defeating “repeal and replace” legislation didn’t provide security for the people who count on these programs. In a scramble to avoid a government shutdown before the end of the year, minimal short-term funding was allocated to community health centers and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This was a band-aid fix to a problem that needs a long-term solution.

Amidst this federal uncertainty, our state legislature can deliver some stability. At the top of the list of issues our state legislature needs to address this session is passing the capital budget. The legislature’s failure to pass it is holding up $9.2 million for more than 17 dental projects across the state that would help 60,000 patients statewide get the dental care they need.

Next up is protecting the health care safety net. The federal CHIP program that contributes to our state’s ability to cover all kids was unfunded the fourth quarter of last year after Congress failed to reauthorize it, despite widespread bipartisan support. Fortunately, Washington State received redistributed funds to keep children covered through the end of last year. In late December, the Continuing Resolution that Congress passed to avert a government shutdown included some short-term funding for CHIP. But this does not provide the security that stable, long-term CHIP funding can provide for our kids and their families. Our state legislature and Governor Inslee must develop a plan to continue covering all kids in case Congress fails to come through with long-term funding.

A short-term patch for health center funding was also included in December’s Continuing Resolution. Health centers rely on this for up to 12% of their funding. With this funding in question long-term, preserving the state’s expansion of Medicaid and full range of benefits continues to be essential for health centers and our patients.

We know Medicaid expansion is working. Washington State’s uninsured rate is at a record low of 6 percent; we can credit Medicaid expansion to this success. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis revealed that these insurance coverage gains are translating into improvements in access to care, utilization of services, the affordability of care, and financial security among low-income populations. Studies have shown improved self-reported health following expansion, and one new study demonstrated a positive association between expansion and health outcomes. These benefits should make protecting Medicaid expansion an easy decision for the state legislature even in this session’s challenging budget environment.

Fortunately, our state legislators have been longtime advocates of protecting the safety net and ensuring that the healthcare needs of the state’s vulnerable populations are being met. We need them again to back us up and speak up for what we know to be true – protecting health care funding is vital to the health of our communities.

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