A report by The Nation came out Wednesday showing Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, wrote a letter of support for the Kenosha Community Health Center to open a similar health center in Racine. The ensuing media conversation about this fact shows the flaws in our nation’s health care debate.
The story centered around the fact that the New Access Points grant program Ryan was advocating to be used on opening a Racine center is currently funded by the Affordable Care Act. The story in The Nation made the point that Ryan “(is) shaking his fist at health reform with one hand while extending an open palm behind closed doors.” Brendan Buck, a spokesperson for the Mitt Romney campaign, refuted this to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, saying “This grant program was created by President Bush, not Obamacare. This … type of misinformation is what you get from gotcha reporting on liberal blogs.”
This back and forth, in a nutshell, is the problem with the current debate about health care in America.
Jack Waters, executive director of the Kenosha and Sheboygan Community Health Centers, told me in an interview about a trip he made to Washington, D.C., shortly after the 2010 election which saw the Republican party take over the House. There he said, “They were trying to throw out Obamacare and Ryan was one of the people who warned not to throw out the funds for health centers.”
Health Centers have been in existence 1975, as noted by congressionalresearch.com, and have consistently received bipartisan support with proven success in caring for underserved populations. Waters stressed this point, saying, “My experience with Paul Ryan has been he has always had this issue with Medicare and Medicaid but I have shown him what we have done economically and care-wise as a community health center and he has been interested. It creates jobs and provides cost-effective care.”
I think it is very interesting that Paul Ryan, in a party climate of no health care reform, supports Community Health Centers. However, I do not think it should be reported as a “gotcha” gaffe like Ryan making up his marathon time, as The Huffington Post reported.
In such a polarized conversation, shouldn’t we look closely at a service that is receiving bipartisan support, specifically support from the opposing party’s presidential ticket?
What about talking about the end result of Ryan’s support for the new health center? Because it turned out, as Mr. Waters informed me, that instead of receiving grant funding at the Racine location, it was Sheboygan that won funding and successfully opened a Community Health Center Sept. 4. Also, in Kenosha over the past five years, the Community Health Center has opened up a new dental facility as well as another medical office and expanded oral health screening programs into 17 elementary schools and medical services into three schools. It has also gone from serving 6,000 people in 2007 to about 20,000 people in 2012, Waters said.. Accompanying this has been a growth in job opportunities, with the staff increasing from 30 to 150. “This points to joint growth and economic impact,” he stated.
With the opening of the Sheboygan center, Mr. Waters noted that Wisconsin now has 18 community health centers servicing 287,000 people. The growing success of these centers, which continued to be supported under the Affordable Care Act and supported by Paul Ryan, should be the story.
In a national conversation that all too often falls under a simplified yes-or-no to health care reform, programs like the community health centers need to be highlighted as common ground from which to move forward.
Paul Ryan’s support for a successful business model for underserved people isn’t a gaffe; it’s an important building block for a better health care system. Everything in an election cycle too often becomes about scoring political points. In this instance, however, the story should be about the good these centers are doing and why Ryan supports them instead of just another potential election miscue.
John Waters ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism.