The Government Shutdown: Bad for Our Nation’s Health

By Jim Mangia

enrollmentIt is truly shocking to me as an American that the leadership of the House of Representatives engineered the shutdown of the United States government.  What is even more disturbing is that they did so in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) – something that had nothing to do with the approval of a federal budget.  Engaging in this level of political brinkmanship is not only jeopardizing the health of our democracy, it is jeopardizing the health of the American people.  The shutdown has resulted in the suspension of funding for many health programs across the country.

Obamacare is the most significant piece of social legislation that has been passed by Congress in 50 years.  Never has a piece of legislation been so attacked – even after passing both Houses of Congress, signed by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court.  And yet the Affordable Care Act would provide health insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans.  If anyone had any doubts about the need for Obamacare, one need only look at the fact that millions of Americans signed up for insurance on the Obamacare “exchanges” in the first days of the roll out that began last week. Americans clearly want access to healthcare coverage and no attempt by Congress to tie the defunding of Obamacare to the federal budget (and thereby shutting the federal government) can erase that fact.

For St. John’s Well Child and Family Center and community health centers like ours throughout California, the most significant aspect of the Affordable Care Act is the expansion of Medicaid, which will provide public health insurance to an additional 1.4 million low-income Californians come January 2014.  This is critical given the historic lack of access of low-income Americans to healthcare services.  Study after study shows that access to regular medical care increases life expectancy and quality of life.

While St. John’s as a community health center, supporting health for more than 200,000 patients a year, has little direct influence on the dysfunction in Washington D.C. – we feel strongly that the way we can impact is to make Obamacare a success for our patients and our organization.  That has been our unrelenting focus for the last 12 months and we are thrilled to share with you our successes in making Obamacare a reality – on the ground – for tens of thousands of patients throughout Los Angeles.

What does it mean to make Obamacare a success?  For St. John’s it means to engage in a re-engineering of our clinic processes and tasks to establish prevention, innovation and expansion as core functions of our health centers.  The beauty of Obamacare, in our opinion, is that it begins to finally realign and refocus incentives and investments to provide preventive services and patient-centered care.  It creates a major space for innovation and out-of-the-box activities to reorder healthcare priorities and practice.  We have the resources and commitment to make our patients healthier.

The Affordable Care Act invested heavily in primary care expansion – St. John’s alone received several expansion grants totaling more than $15 million that allowed us to open four school-based health centers, renovate and expand our Compton health center and to create a state-of-the-art central campus in the heart of South Los Angeles while tripling our clinic service space.

So while Congress fiddles and jeopardizes the health of our nation, St. John’s and community health centers throughout America (as well as millions of Americans who signed up on the health insurance “exchanges”) are making our voices heard by implementing Obamacare on the ground.

 

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