Long before Obamacare ever existed, health care practitioners in Seattle were trying to figure out how to provide high quality, specialized medical care to that community’s uninsured residents. It took a series of meetings and brainstorming sessions to come up with a program which, from all accounts, appears to be successful.
Charity specialty care is the program and it’s run by the non-profit Project Access Northwest. This organization connects low-income, uninsured patients with a medical specialist, for example a doctor who treats allergies or one who focuses on gastrointestinal problems. Doctors who participate in the program do so on a voluntary basis, seeing as few as two patients a month or as many as five, all for free.
Project Access Northwest Executive Director Sallie Neillie notes, today, more than 1,600 Seattle-area doctors participate in charity specialty care. Last year, more than 6,700 patients received care. The organization has a budget of about $2 million, nearly all of which comes from the generosity of those in the community, including hospitals and other care providers.
Doctors are so willing to participate, Neillie says, she seldom has to recruit physicians. She states, “It makes doctors feel good. When I started this, I underestimated the power of a physician giving back in the comfort of their own office.” Patients also play a part; they have to make their appointments, work with their care providers and be polite.
“We work closely with the patients to let them know it’s a privilege and not a right,” she said. “If you’re rude or abusive, you will be fired.”
Project Access Northwest also has a fairly new program that helps low-income people buy insurance. The premium assistance program, Neillie said, “is a solution that works regardless of your politics. It’s the community taking care of the community.”
Solutions like these — solutions that originate in the private sector and continue to benefit and better the conditions of the poor — are what should excite Idaho policymakers, way more so than the idea of creating yet another government program or expanding existing, failing ones like Medicaid. One legislator interested in the charity specialty care concept is Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who was so inspired by the work of Project Northwest Access, she invited the group to speak with lawmakers who are trying to address those in the so-called Medicaid gap, people who don’t qualify for Medicaid and who are not eligible for Obamacare insurance subsidies.
“This project can be a win-win for those in the gap, as well as for county and state taxpayers and those who do not want to expand government,” said Boyle, who is on the panel that seeks solutions to the Obamacare-created gap problem. Lawmakers will likely be interested in how such a program could start and operate in Idaho without government getting involved and screwing it up, as it so often does.
“A similar Idaho-designed program will be a vital piece for medical coverage,” Boyle said. She noted the “assist-our-neighbors spirit which runs strong in Idahoans.” A program that utilizes volunteer resources, she advances, is better than “forcing citizens to pay for those who cannot.”
Said another way, if people in Seattle can figure out how to leverage a community’s care and compassion to improve the lives of its residents, and do so without the “helping hand” of government, Idahoans can do the very same thing.
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