During his eight years in office, President George W. Bush doubled federal funding for community health centers, which offer high-quality primary care in underserved areas. With their long record of providing high-quality care to low-income and uninsured populations, CHCs have enjoyed bipartisan support. But the current Congress allowed health centers’ funding to expire on September 30th, leaving many CHCs scrambling to cover their costs and keep providing services to a patient population that depends on them.
Leighton Ku and Erika Steinmetz, colleagues of mine at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, analyzed the potential consequences if funding isn’t renewed soon. They found that nine million patients may lose access to care; 76,000 – 161,000 jobs could be lost; and state economies could lose $7.4 – $15.6 billion in 2018 alone. Because CHCs are located across the country, the effects would be felt nationwide — although they’d be especially harsh in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, and the harm to patients and communities could be especially severe in hurricane-damaged areas like Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
As Alison Spann reports for The Hill, the National Association of Community Health Centers estimates that unless Congress delivers an infusion of money, health centers will face an immediate 70% cut in funding, and 2,800 delivery sites (out of 10,400) will close. The nine million patients who will lose care include many veterans. Following passage of the Veterans Choice Act in 2014, 700 health centers became Veterans Choice Program providers, and now more than 300,000 veterans receive care from community health centers. And, as the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart points out, extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program (which Congress finally got around to doing 114 days after it expired) is of limited benefit if the health centers where many CHIP enrollees get their care are having to cut back services or close.
Given community health centers’ essential role in the healthcare safety net and local economies nationwide, it shouldn’t take four months for Congress to get around to restoring their funding.