Tacoma News Tribune

This op-ed by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW President Diane Sosne, RN appeared in the Jan. 4 edition of the Tacoma News Tribune.

You are pregnant. Here is your choice:

Option A: Pre-natal health screening and expert guidance on how to have a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Option B: Go without the help and increase the risk of having a difficult pregnancy, premature birth and/or post-partum complications.

You are a taxpayer. Here is your choice:

Option A costs $785.

Option B costs $52,000 for a pre-term birth. Or perhaps $500,000 if the baby needs care in the hospital neonatal intensive care unit.

The correct answer is pretty obvious, yet Washington state is right now choosing Option B – bad for moms, bad for taxpayers.

In today’s state budget debate, the reason for choosing Option B – the more expensive option – is because we can’t afford Option A, the cheaper and more humane choice.

Run down the list of effective state programs that are facing the budget ax and you’ll see the same thing.

  • Basic Health coverage for 55,000 adults and Apple Health for 27,000 kids? Adequate funding for our community clinics? Too expensive to maintain – so instead we’ll treat those people when they become severely ill show up at emergency rooms, where it’ll cost a lot more to care for them.

Those of us with health insurance will see the bill for that uncompensated care tucked into our rising premium costs.

  • Community mental healthcare and chemical dependency treatment? The state can’t afford the $2,200 a year it costs on average to treat a person with mental illness in the community.

Instead, people with mental illness and drug dependency will cycle into crisis, winding up in our prisons ($30,000 a year), state hospitals ($200,000 a year), and emergency rooms (thousands of dollars per visit).

  • Funding to keep our senior citizens and people with disabilities in their own homes? Also cut from the budget. So instead of getting quality home-care services, these vulnerable Washingtonians will end up in much more expensive hospitals and nursing homes.

None of this makes sense, of course, either from the perspective of sound fiscal policy or compassion. But this is what we are facing in the current debate over the state’s 2011-2013 budget: We can’t afford to invest in what works, so we will cut back and suffer the financial and human consequences.

Many people point to the results of the November ballot initiatives as “proof” we cannot raise revenue. But I don’t know any voters who approved of us having nearly 1 million Washingtonians without access to healthcare; of having 1 million Washingtonians on food stamps; 300,000 kids growing up without adequate nutrition; more than 200,000 people with mental illness – equivalent to the entire population of Spokane – lacking access to life-saving services.

The governor was right to say that her proposed all-cuts budget does not reflect basic human values. Indeed, there is no all-cuts budget today that is fiscally or morally sound.

We’ve heard a lot recently from elected officials about how in these times “there are no sacred cows” and “everything must be on the table.”

Our union agrees: Put everything on the table, including the hundreds of tax exemptions and loopholes that add up to $6.5 billion in foregone annual revenue.

Political leaders should scrutinize each one of these tax preferences and weigh their value against the programs that face cuts.

Tax breaks for out-of-state banks or healthcare for kids? Sales tax preferences for stockbrokers or community mental healthcare? Custom software tax loopholes or pre-natal care for pregnant women?

These are real choices we face as a state. And for the sake of fiscal responsibility and plain human decency, we need the Legislature to take the first step by putting these choices squarely before the public as they debate our state’s budget.

Diane Sosne, RN is president of SEIU Healthcare 1199 Northwest, Washington state’s largest healthcare union.

Read more and add your comments: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/01/04/1487989/states-being-penny-wise-and-pound.html#ixzz1A5VPWbsO.

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