Access to health care affects us all


The state Office of Financial Management unveiled a state-wide report on the preventable hospitalization that dives into the often-hidden costs of people not having access to proper medical care. The report charts the healthcare inequality in Washington down to the legislative district level to spot patterns and trends in hopes of finding solutions.

The numbers for much of Pierce County aren’t good, particularly in areas of Tacoma and Lakewood. Of the 49 legislative districts in the state, Pierce County’s 29th and 27th ranked highest for hospitalizations of people that could have been avoided if only they had access to timely and affordable preventative and primary care services, such as regular doctor visits, prescription medications and adult immunizations against common ailments, viruses and diseases.

But medicines and checkups only go so far when it comes to preventing trips to emergency rooms. More than half of a person’s health profile can be determined by where they live, their income, their education and their ethnicity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that healthy behaviors and medical care each account for 20 percent of good health, and just 5 percent comes from a person’s genetics, while just a mile between neighborhoods can create a difference of up to eight years in a person’s life expectancy, from a high of 86 years in Carbonado to a low of 75 years in Lakewood and Tacoma’s Hilltop.

The span comes from health conditions such as diabetes that can be prevented and controlled if found early enough as a way to avoid a lifetime of chronic medications and dialysis as well as potential amputation and blindness if left untreated. Rates of smoking, which vary widely in the county, can also determine a resident’s life expectancy since those rates are tied to smoking-related ailments such as asthma, chronic lung disease and cancers. Health screenings can often find ailments and potential health issues early enough to avoid most costly treatments and hospital stays if left unchecked.

That all makes sense. Troubles found early during regular screenings or health physicals can often be treated and cured, while undiagnosed ailments can wreak havoc on the body and can become life threatening if left unchecked. The county simply lacks healthcare centers and medical facilities to conduct those screenings as well as promote healthy life choices.

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