Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Good Investment

This year the Alaska legislature took a small but positive step toward helping to improve health care in the state by appropriating $3.85 million in support of the 26 federally funded Community Health Centers in the state. By taking this action Alaska has, for the first time, joined 37 other states which contribute funds to the CHC programs.

The Community Health Centers play an important role in providing comprehensive, affordable primary care and preventive services to those most in need. The centers accept Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and also offer a sliding fee scale to those without insurance coverage. They now serve over 88,000 Alaskans, more than half of them with incomes below the Federal Poverty Level. Operating at 124 sites in Alaska, the centers provide the only source of medical care in many of the remote rural villages of the state. The centers are open to all Alaskans, and the care received there is far cheaper than from other sources.

The legislature’s action was in response to a funding request of $13 million from the Alaska Primary Care Association, the umbrella group for the CHCs which are all locally governed. Considering the effectiveness and low cost of the centers, the $3.85 million is a paltry sum. It amounts to only $40 per person for the 88,000 served, and to less than $6 per Alaskan. Compare that to the $1200 per person outlay for energy relief this year and think about the relative value of the two appropriations. The tiny one is an investment in the future, and the big one is a shotgun blast that has no lasting benefit. A significant portion of the money will go to the federal government in income taxes and to Alaskans who do not really need the money. How sad.

Nevertheless, the legislature took an important first step by appropriating funds to the Community Health Centers. The action might be the start of a new era of social responsibility, and we can hope that future legislatures will be far more generous in their appropriations for health care.

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