Health care reform: 20,000 in Yakima could get insurance next month

YAKIMA, Wash. -- It is crunch time in a very big way. The start of universal healthcare means big challenges for hospitals here in Yakima. As many as 20,000 people could soon be insured in our area.

Traci Poirier has been through hell.

"I'm already looking at close to a million dollars just with the four major surgeries I've had," she said.

Just last Christmas, this mom was all smiles. Life was good then. If she only knew what lay ahead.

"It's like a boom," Traci said. "You don't think about anything at that moment because you're scared what's gonna happen to the kids if the worst happens to me."

During a routine doctor's visit, Traci learned she had an aortic aneurysm. She needed open heart surgery immediately. The operations left her unable to work.

She can't collect unemployment and was told it would six months to collect disability. Then, the other shoe fell.

This summer, Traci learned five of her six children also have heart problems. Each one needs immediate care, but Traci has no insurance.

"I cried," she said. "I'm crying now... I'm not an emotional person usually, but I'm trying to be strong for them."

Traci hopes the start of universal healthcare will help her family. Starting in January, she and her kids will be among 20,000 uninsured people in Yakima who will become eligible for medical coverage.

The new law means our local hospitals could be flooded with new patients.

KIMA learned Yakima Regional Hospital started preparing for the change years ago. 33 new doctors have been hired since 2011. Staff orientations are now down weekly instead of monthly.

Across town, Yakima Memorial hasn't made any drastic changes. Staffers say they continually hire new workers, so there's been minimal reaction to the new law.

But the same cannot be said about the Yakima Valley Farm Worker's Clinic. A dozen new doctors hired to accommodate an influx of patients. In addition, there's been a big effort to sign-up uninsured patients ahead of time including Traci.

"Not having it, you wonder if my kids are gonna get fixed? Will I get fixed? For me, it's a life-threatening thing," she said.

Traci will be signing up for coverage when she's eligible next month. She hopes it'll allow her family to get the care they desperately need.

Uninsured people can start signing up for universal healthcare in October.

At the same time, you can help Traci by showing up to a local fundraiser this weekend. Organizers will be raising money at the Top Foods on South First Street. They'll be there from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.