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Industry Groups Urge Congress to Re-Fund Community Health Centers

A coalition of 75 healthcare leadership groups have urged Congressional leaders to fund community health centers and support patient access to healthcare.

community health center

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- A group of 75 leading healthcare industry organizations have penned a letter to Congressional leadership urging them to reauthorize and fully fund community health centers. Not doing so would considerable impede patient access to healthcare, the signatories suggested.

Funding for community health centers (CHCs) lapsed on September 30, 2017, the same day the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding lapsed as well. Following a three-day government shutdown earlier this month, Congress passed a short-term funding bill, which provided a long-term fix for CHIP funding, but left community health centers funded only through February 8, 2018.

This failure to fund community health centers considerably undercuts state Medicaid programs and access to care for underserved patient populations.

“This lapse in authorization and funding, coupled with the continuous enactment of short-term patches, has put in jeopardy health care services for seniors on Medicare and patients in underserved communities, resources for health care providers in rural communities, and programs aimed at training primary care physicians,” the signatories wrote.

The signatories were clear that they were not upset by the CHIP reauthorization and long-term funding; that move should have been accompanied by long-term funding for community health centers, they argued, noting the benefit CHCs have on patient access to healthcare.

READ MORE: How Community Health Centers Support Patient-Centered Care

Community health centers are affordable safety net clinics and are the largest providers of primary care to the nation’s most vulnerable and medically underserved communities. Community health centers are prevalent in both urban and rural communities that have high poverty rates or low numbers of private or non-profit health systems and hospitals.

Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) showed that community health centers serve 24.3 million individuals who are uninsured or underinsured at about 1,200 CHCs nationwide. About three-quarters of those patients are under the federal poverty level.

Community health centers are the bedrock of primary care for underserved patient populations, the signatories argued. Without these clinics, numerous patients will go without care, impeding patient health outcomes and potentially putting an eventual financial strain on the healthcare industry at large.

The signatories urged Congressional leadership – House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) – to pass a long-term funding bill that would support CHCs.

Additionally, the signatories called on Congressional leadership to support funding for other healthcare institutions, including:

  • Community Health Center Fund
  • Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital payment funding
  • Medicare Therapy Cap Extension
  • Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program
  • Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program
  • National Health Service Corps
  • Physician Fee Schedule GPCI Parity Policy

READ MORE: Using Community Health Partnerships to Address Social Needs

“These programs and policies enjoy strong bipartisan support and many have been approved for reauthorization and funding by the appropriate committees of jurisdiction, during the current Congress,” the group pointed out. “The continued lack of predictable funding for these programs and policies stands to negatively impact the lives of millions of people and communities all across the nation.”

“We urge you to prioritize the continuation of these programs and policies and take the appropriate steps to ensure that each are reauthorized and funded as part of the next government funding bill,” the group added.

The effort was led by America’s Essential Hospitals but garnered the support from the Association of American Medical Colleges, March of Dimes, the National Association of Community Health Centers, the National Patient Advocate Foundation, and the Patient Centered Primary Care Collaborative, among several others.

Other signatories, including the Massachusetts Medical Society, have also issued their own statements. In a comment posted on January 24, Massachusetts Medical Society President Henry L. Dorkin, MD, FAACP, pointed out the toll the lapsed funding took on his state specifically.

“CHCs are facing devastating budget cuts, which could lead to the closure of thousands of health center sites nationwide,” Dorkin wrote. “Here in Massachusetts, 50 community health centers, which serve nearly one million patients each year, are in jeopardy.”

READ MORE: What Providers Should Know to Improve Patient Access to Healthcare

CHCs play a major role in addressing the social determinants of health, Dorkin added. These clinics connect patients to food, housing, and wellness resources, as well as offer support during the current opioid crisis.

“By providing level discretionary funding and by extending the Health Centers Fund, Congress could maintain needed stability at health centers – essential safety nets that meet the needs of communities across the Commonwealth,” Dorkin concluded. “Without reliable funding, community health centers are unable to expand staff, move forward on developing new services, or invest in their communities’ futures.”

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