Facts on the ground
By Dylan Matthews
Dan Barry at the New York Times has a great feature on the community health center in Portland, Maine, on the occasion of President Obama's visit:
A year ago, there was no Portland Community Health Center, though for years the city had been seeking federal money for a center that would provide care regardless of income or insurance. One that would reach the many new immigrants and refugees -- from Rwanda, Iraq, Congo -- who are finding their way to this southern Maine hub; save money; offer help.
Then, last year, the city received $1.3 million in stimulus money to open a community health center. It created a board, hired a staff, and found some vacant but tired space in a building on Park Avenue. On Nov. 2, the doors opened. ...
Patients without insurance pay on a sliding fee scale that is made possible by Medicaid reimbursement. For example, if they earn $10,830 or less a year, which is the usual case here, they pay $3 a visit.
So far, this community health center has seen 750 patients who, employees say, would otherwise have gone to the emergency room or gone without treatment. Half have no insurance. Many are Mainers, but just as many are recently arrived immigrants who often bear the mental scars of war. Interpreters are part of the everyday life here.
It's cases like this that make health-care reform and the stimulus moral issues. There are arguments to be had about the proper level of government involvement in health care or whether the Medicare cuts and excise tax will stick, but it's pretty hard to say that things like the $11 billion the health-care reform package will provide to community health centers won't reduce human suffering. And it's things like this, and Medicaid expansion, and subsidies to low-income workers that make up the bulk of the law's cost. Providing that care is not "indulgent," it's an act of basic human decency, and deficit worrywarts ought to think seriously about whether the interests of bond traders ought to be worthy of more government attention than those of refugees making under $10,830 a year.
-- Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post
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