Low-income hurt by funding ‘cliff ’
Avirulent flu season is underway and the number of opioid overdoses continues to climb, leaving Oklahomans in a state of crisis. Community Health Centers like Variety Care are leading efforts to provide a solution to this crisis, but we’re running out of time and money.
Critical funding for our program expired Oct. 1. Since then, Community Health Centers have been operating under a “funding cliff.” This phrase would lead one to think this is an issue solely about money. It is much more. It’s about people and how decisions made (or left unmade) by Congress can have a ripple effect.
When people are sick, they need an accessible place to go for affordable care. At Variety Care, we’re doing everything we can to ensure our doors remain open and our patients receive quality care, but it isn’t easy. In 2017, Variety Care provided care for 120,000 Oklahomans, including more than 19,000 uninsured patients and 32,000 children. So far, 2018 has shown no sign that the number of patients needing care will decrease: In January, Variety Care had almost 21,000 medical encounters. If funding isn’t renewed, thousands of underserved patients could lose access to care.
Community Health Centers in Oklahoma and around the country are facing tough choices. They are laying off staff, cutting back services and planning for site closures.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has projected the impact of the funding cliff will result in the closure of 2,800 Community Health Center sites and the loss of health care access for 9 million patients.
Health care for more than 27 million people is being run on a monthto-month basis because Congress has failed to extend funding for our program. The impact to care teams cannot be overstated: Doctors, nurses, and medical assistants cannot be recruited or coaxed to remain in our most rural and medically underserved areas. Medicines or other supplies cannot be purchased beyond the next month.
This isn’t how a health system should run — particularly the Community Health Center program that has served the nation so well in terms of saving lives and dollars. Health centers like ours have been in place for more than 50 years, opening access to care and providing a more affordable option for preventive care than a hospital emergency room.
Community Health Centers generate $24 billion in health care cost savings. Variety Care has a per-patient cost of less than $725 per year, which includes medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, nutrition and social services. The value Community Health Centers provide is an investment yielding tangible returns. The cost of one single emergency room visit is more than twice Variety Care’s annual per-patient cost. Our record of success is why our program has earned bipartisan support from U.S. presidents and lawmakers.
And here’s the bitter irony about the cliff: Most everyone agrees Congress should extend funding and act now. Lawmakers must move beyond the political debate and invest in affordable, accessible care for working Oklahomans and their families.