Advertisement

After-welfare health care put welfare recipients to work!

October 02, 1998

That was the rallying cry of the welfare reformers, who reasoned that if they made it tougher to get on public assistance and put time limits on how long people could stay on the rolls, more able-bodied people would go to work. To the surprise of many welfare advocates, they were right, but there's a catch for many in West Virginia.

Many of those jobs that provide the gateway into the working world don't include any health insurance. Under new welfare laws, most members of this new work force no longer qualify for Medicaid, which means they must seek health care anywhere they can get it.

In this case, "anywhere" is the state's eight free clinics, which have seen their patient loads grow substantially as the welfare caseload dropped. In Charleston, the Health Right Clinic has added 1,200 patients in the last year and now sees an average of 125 per day. The load is such, according to Pat White, Health Right's director, that some patients are being turned away.

Advertisement

In Clarksburg, The Associated Press reported that the annual patient load of that city's Health Access clinic has gone from 2,000 to 8.000 in just six years. At the same time, Kathy Wilson, the clinic's director, says the private grants such clinics depend on are becoming harder to get.

So what's the answer? Allowing the situation to continue in this way is unacceptable, because without access to health care they can afford, low-income workers won't seek the preventive care that keeps minor problems from turning into major illnesses. Once that happens, they'll become destitute and eligible for Medicaid again, upping the state's costs to treat an illness that probably could have been prevented.

Until true health-care reform arrives, the state has to dedicate some of the savings from welfare reform to the free clinics. It might also look at helping work out things like joint purchasing, if such isn't already in place. Welfare reform was never envisioned as painless, but what the reformers envisioned was putting people to work, not forcing them into a sickbed.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|