Policymakers may eliminate one of the key supports that allow dentists and physicians to volunteer their time to treat Washington State’s uninsured and underinsured.
This legislative session policymakers are considering a proposal that would eliminate malpractice insurance for dentists, hygienists, physicians and other health care workers who volunteer to treat some of the state’s most vulnerable patients. This decision would leave more than 67,000 residents without regular preventive care and treatment.
Currently, the Volunteer/Retired Provider Program (VRP) covers the cost of a volunteer’s malpractice insurance. Without coverage many dentists and physicians simply wouldn’t be able to provide care. That would mean many of their patients would wind up in emergency rooms, where their dental problems could be more severe and their care more expensive. Overall, emergency room visits would rise and dental care among low-income and other struggling populations could fall.
The Washington legislature is considering getting rid of the VRP program, which covers more than 660 dentists, physicians, nurses and other volunteer health care professionals, as it tries to find $1 billion to $1.5 billion in savings over the next two months.
But, eliminating the program would only save $297,000 a year. That savings is dwarfed by the millions in medical, dental and mental health care these volunteers provide every year. Without support for malpractice insurance, many low-income health clinics might close their doors.
There is still time. Washington legislators will begin work on the budget later this month. Tell them to preserve this vital part of Washington’s health safety net. Please use this link to find your legislator.
- “State May Cut Malpractice Insurance for Volunteer Providers.” The Spokesman-Review. 12/1/11.
- “VRP Survey Results Show Large Number of Patients Served at Considerable Cost Savings.” Western Washington Area Health Education Center, 12/16/11.