How Health Care Advocates Help the Poor and Save Utah Money
The Salt Lake Community Action Program is a long established anti-poverty agency but most people don’t realize they also act as advocates for the poor. The Salt Lake CAP Healthcare Policy Advocates are well known by Utah lawmakers for working with policy makers, state agencies and clients to ensure that the voices of low-income people are represented. They advocate for those who do not have the resources to advocate for themselves.
This year CAP healthcare policy advocates prevented a critical cut to Medicaid by allying with other advocacy groups. The Medicaid cuts would have resulted in many pregnant women being unable to get pre-natal care by making it more difficult to qualify for and receive Medicaid assistance. The health and well-being of mothers and their babies were at risk. Through the hard work and efforts of the CAP advocates these cuts were prevented.
According to the Utah March of Dimes in an average week in Utah, 118 babies are born premature. That is one in every nine babies and more than 6,000 babies per year born prematurely. Some premature births can be prevented with early and ongoing prenatal care.
Salt Lake CAP Advocate Sheila Walsh-McDonald has been working for the rights of Utah’s most impoverished citizens for over thirty years . She has a Masters of Social Work from the University of Utah.
Walsh McDonald emphasizes that it is important that all women receive pre-natal care early in their pregnancy. “Often-times visible cuts to preventative services in Medicaid seem tempting to lawmakers in a budget crisis. Time and again it is proven that making those initially attractive cuts actually leads to greater healthcare expenditures. The circumstance of protecting pre-natal care for low income women is such an example. We all want the best cost containment measures possible in our Medicaid program, but the most effective cost containment for Medicaid, in these circumstances, is a healthy baby.”
Sheila says it is also important to cover more than expecting mothers, “Many health issues can be successfully addressed in a visit to a primary care setting. However, without insurance or access to a physician, many people delay receiving treatment until the issue forces them to the emergency room at a much higher cost.”
Walsh-McDonald works closely with fellow Policy Advocate Whitney Barrell.
Barrell equally enjoys her work and finds it fulfilling. “The purpose of advocacy on a policy level is to influence systemic change.” Barrell says. “I find there is often a disconnect between policy makers and our low-income community. Policy changes occur that may have genuine intent but once they are rolled out the laws can end up being an additional barrier to our working poor families. I am interested in ways to bridge this gap.” Barrell graduated from the University of Utah with a Masters of Social Work in 2009.
CAP’s advocates help people everyday who are overwhelmed by complications in the healthcare system. Recently “Jeremy” came in to get help applying for CHIP. It is the Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program. He had coverage for his kids through his employer but when his insurance company raised their rates multiple times he was no longer able to afford to carry a policy. He was very concerned about his children going without health insurance and the likelihood of financial disaster should the children need a complicated procedure or have an accident. Many times families are confused and overwhelmed by the application process for CHIP and Medicaid. Parents may hesitate to take their child to a doctor for a treatable illness that could turn into a serious illness. The Advocates are a great help and often go through the application process step by step with clients. When Jeremy received the letter letting him know his family was eligible he called to thank Policy Advocate Whitney Barrow and expressed his gratitude for helping his family.
During the legislative session Salt Lake CAP healthcare advocates speak to Representatives regarding bills or budgets that could have an impact on how low-income individuals access health care, what services are available to them and addressing pervasive barriers that may exist.
Sheila Walsh-McDonald was recently awarded the 2010 Community Champion Award by Molina Healthcare of Utah for her years of service to Utah’s poor.