obamacare
12:04 am
Wed January 16, 2013

Notice our new building? Health clinics prepare for bigger role

Physical signs of President Obama’s health care law are springing up across western Washington. Wherever you live, there’s probably one nearby. They’re medical clinics that cater to low-income people--and they are in growth mode.

For example, in Bothell, at the north end of Lake Washington, HealthPoint celebrated a stylish new medical center with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting last week. Bothell is a middle income suburb, and it’s also home to a fair number of people sometimes called "the working poor"--who have jobs but not health insurance. 

"There's a disproportionate number of those folks in this community," says Tom Trompeter, CEO of HealthPoint, which runs nine stand-alone clinics in King County.

HealthPoint is officially a Federally Qualified Community Health Center. They focus on serving the uninsured and people who are poor enough to have Medicaid coverage from the government.

As nearly 30 million Americans gain health insurance next year, where will they find a doctor or nurse?

The striking new building in Bothell features a dental clinic and pharmacy, in addition to its primary care clinic.

"We have built a building that basically says, 'we are your healthcare home.' We are your dental home, your medical home, it's all together," says Trompeter.

Uninsured and low-income clients rarely get dental care, because it’s not subsidized by the state. It's not unusual for them to end up in an emergency room with a massive mouth infection.

"The need for dental care," says Trompeter, " is one of the greatest unmet needs in our communities, broadly, certainly here in King County."

The house that Obamacare built

HealthPoint has two more ribbon-cuttings planned, as new clinics sprout in south King County's Midway and Tukwila. Other community clinics are expanding, too, in Everett, Tacoma, Seattle and Chehalis, among others.

Overall, the federal government has granted $65-million to expand Community Health Centers across Washington. They're a key part of the new federal health law. As nearly 30 million Americans gain health insurance next year, where will they find a doctor or nurse?

More than half of them, according to the strategy, will end up at Community Health Centers. The centers have been praised by Republicans and Democrats for being efficient; they know how to stretch a dollar.

Dark shadows?

However, the expansion strategy has a weakness. Even the striking new clinic in Bothell depends on subsidies from Olympia and Washington, DC--where the focus is on making budget cuts.