Health Care Infrastructure is Straining to Keep Up With Demand
One in seven Washingtonians are without health insurance— an increase of about 170,000 people since the start of the recession (see graph below). Community health centers and hospitals serve as the providers of last resort for those who do not have access to regular care. But as our recent brief, “Cuts on the Rise, Health in Decline,” shows, they have been weakened by recent cuts despite growing demand for their services because of the weak economy and reductions in other areas of health care spending.
In the last legislative session alone, community health centers (CHCs) sustained over $300 million in cuts. Because CHCs serve anyone, regardless of ability to pay, the loss of state funds puts enormous strain on them. In 2010, CHCs served roughly 728,000 patients, 35 percent of whom were uninsured. The number of uninsured patients has increased 75 percent since 2000. Health centers have responded to the cuts by freezing salaries, laying off providers, and reducing hours of operation. If cuts continue and the number of uninsured rises, some CHCs will be faced with closing their doors.
Hospitals are another setting for serving people who lack insurance and often are not compensated. In 2010, Washington state hospitals provided an estimated $700 million in uncompensated care – $378 million in charity care and $311 million in bad debt write-offs – a 24 percent increase from 2008. By 2013 that figure is expected to rise to nearly $1.2 billion.
The health and well-being of Washingtonians is in jeopardy unless policymakers move away from cutting services and toward a solution that embraces revenue as part of the answer. Short-term solutions could include temporarily increasing the state sales tax and eliminating unproductive tax breaks. In addition, we need to make broader changes in the way Washington takes in revenue, to ensure long-term stability. This can be accomplished through a new tax on capital gains received by the wealthiest households.
To read the full brief, click here.