No one should have to choose between paying for health care and putting a roof over their head or food on their family's table.
Our communities and our families are stronger when everyone is healthy, but our country's health care system is broken. Too many people can't afford the care or the prescription medication they need, or they are left with bills they cannot pay. As a Congresswoman and Executive Director at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation, we are fighting to remove barriers to health care and make it more accessible for everyone.
The Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which cares for more than 50,000 people per year in Washington and Yamhill counties, provides a powerful example of the difference it makes when barriers are removed and everyone gets the health care they need. Virginia Garcia doesn't turn anyone away for their inability to pay; they even go out and meet people where they are — by visiting schools, driving a mobile clinic to rural areas, and sometimes even providing door-to-door transportation to appointments and wellness classes.
We have seen how lives are improved through these comprehensive efforts. One beneficiary was a young boy who desperately needed dental work. This student was developmentally delayed and non-verbal, but staff at his school noticed he struggled to chew his food. When Virginia Garcia's dental team visited his school, they quickly discovered that he needed dental work on 17 of his 24 teeth. They connected his family with resources to receive treatment through Medicaid and scheduled his appointment, removing hurdles the family may have struggled with on their own.
Members of our community who are recovering from opioid-use disorder are also benefitting from Virginia Garcia's health care services. The clinic's program provides wrap-around treatment plans that include behavioral health care and medication to holistically treat people who are seeking to improve their lives. A patient who was addicted to heroin said that the non-judgmental support she received — something she was unable to find in other treatment programs — has led to a more successful life in recovery.
Despite all of the good work at Virginia Garcia, we know there is still unmet need. Quality, affordable health care must be available for all, not just for the wealthy. Improving health care access will empower people to live healthier lives and reach their full potential. Making progress means tackling exorbitant drug prices, protecting people with pre-existing conditions, removing the stigma from and adequately funding mental health care, expanding treatment programs for opioid and substance use disorder, increasing funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers like Virginia Garcia, and blocking the Trump administration's attempts to undermine Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.
We stood together at the State of the Union to draw attention to the urgent need for action on health care. The House of Representatives has already passed major legislation to protect people with preexisting conditions and to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Those bills now sit in the Senate. We will continue pushing for more.
Virginia Garcia was only 6 years old when she died from an infection in her foot because her family lacked access to health care. We can, and we must, do better so this will not happen again.
Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici represents Northwest Oregon in Congress and invited Serena Cruz to be her guest for the 2020 State of the Union address. Serena Cruz is executive director of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Foundation.
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