My Turn: Access to health care is what really matters

Posted: Tuesday, July 27, 2010

While stories of the governor's veto of Senate Bill 13 and the funding for the expansion of the state's Denali Kid Care program fade from the media's news cycle, just less than 1,300 children and more than 200 pregnant women will be faced with the daily reality of not having basic insurance coverage. That is why I sponsored this legislation and that is where my interest in this remains. Some may argue that they still have the ability to seek treatment at an emergency room. While that is true, let's look at some scenarios that Denali Kid Care would cover with a less costly visit to a doctor's office.

Try taking your 6-month-old to an emergency room, instead of a pediatrician's office, for check-ups that include hearing or vision tests, immunizations and other various well-baby screenings. They can't help you with that at the emergency room. Perhaps while talking to your 2-year-old child, you notice they can only imitate speech or actions, but he or she doesn't produce words or phrases spontaneously. Without speech language therapy, his or her speech could fall further behind his or her peers as he or she grows older. You can't get speech therapy in an emergency room. We all know smart children who seem to lose interest or can't follow things in class, whom we later learn couldn't see the visuals the teacher used because he or she didn't know he or she needed glasses. You can't get glasses in an emergency room. How about not being able to eat or concentrate during school or at home because of a toothache. The emergency room doesn't offer dental checkups, cleanings or fillings. Your 14-year-old breaks his or her leg while engaged in sports and goes to the emergency room for treatment. In this instance they will no doubt receive outstanding care, but what about follow-up physical therapy? You can't get that in an emergency room.

There are many other great services offered through Denali Kid Care such as mental health therapy, substance abuse treatment, chiropractic services, foot doctor's services and the fundamentally important, but many times forgotten, medical transportation services. I haven't even touched upon the pre-natal services available to pregnant women that are critical to the well-being of the mother and birth of a healthy child.

Let me make it clear : I believe we have some of the most highly trained, caring and compassionate professionals staffing our emergency rooms statewide and I am highly supportive of them. But an emergency room is designed for just what it pronounces itself to be: a place to treat people during emergencies. While either a doctor or emergency room visit for your child can provide you with laboratory tests, prescription drugs or in a worst-case scenario hospitalization for a major traumatic event, the costs for these services could easily be a financial nightmare for any family. If the family cannot pay most or any of the bills, those costs are spread throughout the health care system to those with insurance, whose premiums go up accordingly. And if those services are done exclusively at an emergency room, the costs are even higher. So while some individuals want to take this valuable program and use it as a touchstone for their opinions on government spending or philosophical battles, I remain focused on helping to bring health care to those who have no real interest in politics, but just need assistance to see a doctor. For those women and children, the fact the veto of SB 13 is no longer headline news doesn't change their needs.

• Bettye Davis is an Anchorage Democrat serving District K in the State Senate.

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