From the Exec: King County is creating a culture of coverage

King County Executive Dow Constantine says the county will create a "culture of coverage."

King County Executive Dow Constantine says the county will create a “culture of coverage.”

Regular healthcare column by King County Executive Dow Constantine.

We are making history in King County. Think of the things we take for granted in our society — Social Security, disability insurance, Medicare. National healthcare reform is an equally historic breakthrough. It was hard-won in Congress, and it’s an opportunity we will not let pass us by.

There are about 1 million people who are uninsured in Washington state, and nearly half now qualify for affordable healthcare. In King County, about 180,000 people are newly eligible for coverage — one of every six adults.

Some 80,000 more people in King County are now qualified for Medicaid. Another 100,000 qualify for reduced premiums on 40 different health plans. Instead of paying $1,000 or more a month for insurance, people may qualify for a $300 premium, on the scale of a car payment. If they’re in a worse place, maybe $100 – the size of a monthly cell phone bill – or even less.

Why it matters

When enrollment opened on Oct. 1, I joined Gov. Inslee at Carolyn Downs Family Center in Seattle’s Central District, which has the highest rate of uninsured patients in the state (more than half of the clinic’s patients don’t have insurance). We spoke with several clients who told us how much it means to have this kind of opportunity — for themselves, for their families, and for their futures.

Vera Johnson was among the first to enroll. I’ve known her as the owner of a small nursery in White Center. Vera was unable to afford insurance for herself and her daughter after her family circumstances changed and the recession slashed her business earnings by two-thirds. Charles Jackson had insurance through his job until two hip-replacement surgeries forced him to stop working. At 64, he is not yet eligible for Medicare. I also met Benjamin Smith, who was already struggling to make ends meet when a brain aneurysm sent him to Harborview.

Full enrollment

I have set the ambitious goal of full enrollment for our 180,000 uninsured people in King County who are newly eligible for coverage. To reach that goal, I have mobilized every County agency that has direct contact with the public. We will create an expectation that all will become insured: a culture of coverage. This is an all-hands-on-deck effort.

We’ll talk to people wherever we meet them. Every office, every counter, and every agent, regardless of county agency, should connect people to coverage. I have personally reached out to community leaders in business, labor, education, healthcare, non-profits and public service, creating a Leadership Circle that has helped guide our enrollment efforts.

Through these partner organizations, we have trained more than 500 In-Person Assisters, fluent in 34 languages, who will enroll the uninsured at 200 events, and at hundreds of public places such as libraries and community centers. Find an event in your area.

What you can do

Executive Constantine meets Charles Jackson, who is newly eligible for health insurance.

Executive Constantine meets with Charles Jackson, who is newly eligible for health insurance.

As a society, we are paying for others getting sick. The costs of uncompensated care are spread throughout the system. Whenever one uninsured person is rushed to the emergency room for a condition that could have been prevented, that’s a bill passed on to everyone through higher insurance premiums or taxes.

When people have access to affordable health care, they can lead healthier, more productive lives. That’s good for them, good for business, good for all of us.

We all know someone who can’t afford health insurance. The best thing we can do is talk with family, friends, and co-workers. Make sure they know how to get covered, and ask them to help others get covered.

Affordable coverage is here. Log on to Washington Healthplanfinder to learn more, or call 1-855-923-4633.

Thank you, and here’s to a healthier future for everyone.

Dow Constantine,
King County Executive

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