For 11 years, I worked as a registered nurse for a hospice, visiting patients at their homes in Lincoln County, West Virginia. Sometimes I would drive up to 150 miles a day, up valleys and hollows, late at night when on call, or even through creek beds to reach my patients. As a hospice nurse in West Virginia, I've seen firsthand how people of all ages and from all walks of life deal with illness and dying, and I've seen how important good healthcare and insurance is, especially to families like those I cared for.
My patients in Lincoln County often lived far apart and far from the Hamlin-based Lincoln Primary Care Center, part of a network of rural clinics that serve many counties across the state and region. These clinics provide a full range of services - from dental to urgent care to mental health - and form a vital part of their communities.
As a federally qualified health center, Lincoln Primary Care Center also qualifies for enhanced reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, and that allows the center to adjust fees and ensure services are provided to families who truly cannot afford care otherwise. Now, as a retired nurse, I go back to the Hamlin clinic for my own healthcare; the quality of care and medical professionals there is truly excellent.
In 2013, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin decided to expand Medicaid to help more West Virginians gain health insurance coverage. Now, the program covers 180,000 of our neighbors and provides children, seniors, people with disabilities, and people without much access to healthcare the protection of being able to afford medicine and treatments they might need. Most of the funding for this healthcare comes from the federal government, and much of it is at risk under the Republicans' healthcare bill.
Many of the families I cared for lived in poverty. Some of my patients lived from check to check to cover their utilities or relied on nutrition assistance. Others often had no transportation to the Lincoln Primary Care Clinic, regional hospitals or local doctors, and they relied on us for home visits. In terms of paying for healthcare, many patients and their families were thankful to have hospice care because we accepted either what Medicaid or Medicare would pay for services.
The Republican healthcare bill has raised concerns for me about the patients and families I cared for and the federal funding my former colleagues rely on to continue caring for them. I've started voicing those concerns, too, by talking with the nurses and social workers who drove across Lincoln County with me and asking my own healthcare providers in Hamlin about what services would be at risk if their Medicaid funding fails them.
I have also raised the topic with friends and members of my congregation and called our representatives in Charleston and Washington. Healthcare is an important issue for all of us, but for those of us with little other means to pay for much-needed medical care, protecting Medicaid is perhaps the most important. Protecting Medicaid also means guarding against attempts to hide devastating cuts in the Republican healthcare bill by pushing them off into the future.
So far, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has opposed the healthcare bill, speaking specifically to the risks it poses to West Virginians who rely on Medicaid. These risks should continue to guide her opposition to it, regardless of when the proposed cuts are scheduled. Folks across the Mountain State should continue sharing their concerns about this bill with her; its passage would do too much harm to our neighbors now and in the years to come.
Brenda K. Bassett is a retired nurse who lives in Culloden.