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Alaska's neighborhood health centers do more with Affordable Care Act

Mary K. Wakefield
OPINION: Affordable Care Act gives a shot in the arm to neighborhood health centers in Alaska. Pictured: Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center. Bill Roth

Every August, we celebrate National Health Center Week, recognizing the critical role health centers play in assuring access to high quality, affordable health care services for millions of people no matter where they live or what their income.
 
This year, we have even another great reason to celebrate: health centers across the nation have helped more than 6 million people find quality, affordable health coverage through the health insurance marketplace and Medicaid. Across the country, millions people signed up for quality, affordable coverage through the marketplace, and according to a report out just last week, 7 million more people are enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). For Alaska, that means that as of this June, more than 4,612 people have been enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP. If Alaska expanded Medicaid, an additional 26,000 uninsured people would gain coverage. This Medicaid expansion would be fully paid for by the federal government, and would never fall below 90 percent, helping not only the uninsured, but also community health centers who often struggle to pay for the cost of caring for the uninsured.
 
As a result of efforts by health centers and others, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 10.3 million uninsured adults got covered since the Affordable Care Act’s Open Enrollment. In fact, according to that study our national uninsured rate fell from 21 percent in September to 16.3 percent in April. For the first time in decades, the number of uninsured in America is declining.
 
For the people of Alaska, many of whom may be covered for the very first time, affordable insurance can be life-changing.  They will no longer have to choose between taking care of their electric bill and taking care of their fever. They will no longer have to live in fear that a heart condition or a child’s asthma could wipe out their life savings or send them into bankruptcy.
 
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer deny individuals coverage because of a pre-existing condition.  In addition, most health plans must cover preventive services like recommended cancer screenings and flu shots at no extra cost.
 
The 100,595 patients seen in Alaska's health centers are some of the almost 22 million patients who receive health care services from the nearly 1,300 health centers operating more than 9,200 primary care sites across the nation. I have had the privilege of visiting a number of these centers, and have seen the importance of the primary and preventive services they provide. I have met with some of the more than 156,000 doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health providers and other health professionals nationwide who make it their life's work to keep individuals and families in Alaska healthy and productive.
 
In just the last year, health centers provided prenatal care for nearly a half a million mothers, asthma treatments for more than a million adults and children, and cared for more than 3.5 million patients with hypertension. And, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’re continuing to strengthen this network by helping care providers offer a broader array of primary care services, extend hours of operations, hire more providers, and renovate or build new clinical spaces.
 
Help us celebrate National Health Center Week by telling someone in your life about the great care options Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center and 24 other organizations provide at 168 delivery sites throughout the state of Alaska. And don’t forget to tell your uninsured friends and neighbors that the health insurance marketplace open enrollment starts again on Nov. 15, and they may qualify for Medicaid or special enrollment now.
 
Everyone deserves the security of accessible, affordable, high quality health care, and that’s exactly what our health centers and the health insurance marketplace offer. Check out your options today at healthcare.gov or at your local health center.

Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N., is administrator of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com