Las Vegas Sun

February 19, 2019

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GUEST COLUMN:

Health care fight is just beginning

As a single mother with a disabled son and a sister with a severe neurological disorder, I understand how important it is that my family and families like ours have access to affordable and high-quality health care. On Friday, we celebrated that millions of Americans have gained health insurance coverage thanks to the signing of the Affordable Care Act eight years ago.

Here in Nevada, the law lowered the uninsured rate by 44.7 percent, and more Nevadans are enrolling in ACA plans than ever before. More than 90,000 people signed up for affordable health coverage at healthcare.gov in 2017 — 102 percent of last year’s total sign-ups in Nevada. About 630,000 Nevadans rely on Medicaid for health care coverage — more than 200,000 of whom gained coverage under Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act was essential in getting more Nevadans covered.

We should be proud of the progress we’ve made, but there is still work to be done in expanding health care access, supporting rural hospitals, lowering the cost of health care and ensuring that all Nevadans have health care coverage.

Access to comprehensive, quality care is a problem in many areas of Nevada. My son suffers from juvenile arthritis, but there is only one specialist in the state who can treat him. Instead, we rely on a doctor in California to travel to Las Vegas every couple of months.

Nevadans shouldn’t be forced to seek treatment in another state to get the care they need. As a member of the Board of Regents, I supported establishment of the UNLV medical school to address our region’s severe lack of physicians. We must provide incentives and resources necessary to have quality physicians who can help Nevadans live healthy lives — no matter their condition or location.

Nevada has one of the highest percentages of rural hospitals and health centers in the nation. The doctors and nurses at these facilities are often the primary providers of care to the surrounding community, and they face serious staffing and funding constraints. Rural hospitals are essential to the well-being of our district.

I visited Tonopah, Mesquite and Pahrump last week to hear from folks about the issues that matter most to them in this campaign. I heard time and again about the serious obstacles families have to overcome to get the care they need.

Families in rural communities are forced to drive many miles to receive emergency medical care or forgo treatment altogether. I spoke with a high school student in Tonopah who had second-degree burns and couldn’t be treated because he lived too far from a hospital.

That is simply unacceptable.

Not only is access limited, but health care costs are rising — and families are feeling the impacts. Premiums have skyrocketed in Nevada in recent years, and estimates suggest that premiums will climb 15.2 percent next year thanks to Republicans in Washington.

As a health care professional, I have seen just how confusing rising health care costs can be. It is sad that I know exactly how much a gallon of milk will cost when I walk into a grocery store, but I have no idea how much a lifesaving ambulance ride would cost. We need greater price transparency so Nevadans can make smart decisions about their care.

While our country has made significant strides toward universal health care coverage, about 1 in 10 Nevadans still does not have health insurance. The Silver State can and must strive for a gold standard in health care and close the coverage gap.

We must build on the progress made the past eight years under the Affordable Care Act to ensure every family has access to the high quality and affordable health care they deserve.

Allison Stephens is a Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. The seat is currently held by Rep. Ruben Kihuen.