Communities may lose health center funding
Congress must act this weekend to quell loss
Community health centers, which serve more than 27 million people, are at risk of losing 70% of their funding if Congress doesn’t act by Saturday to restore it.
Progress is being made as the deadline approaches.
Bipartisan legislation is pending in the House to address the funding cliff, but a solution could be included with measures to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and other health care-related provisions known as “extenders” for which the money also runs out on Sept.
30. The bill is gaining House sponsors.
Bipartisan negotiators are working in both houses on a deal, says Dan Hawkins, senior vice president for policy and research at the National Association of Community Health Centers.
Without the new money, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates 2,800 health center sites would close and eliminate more than 50,000 jobs and access to care for about
9 million patients.
The House and Senate will be in session for 24 days between October and mid-November, and Mary Bufwack, CEO of Neighborhood Health, said “the focus will likely become getting a bill through Congress by Thanksgiving.”
It will be tough for the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to get money to clinics on the Jan. 1 cycle if legislation isn’t passed by mid-November, Bufwack said.
A continuing resolution signed by President Trump extended
30% of the funding temporarily. The HRSA could help with discretionary funds through March if another continuing resolution is passed.
There’s a bill in the House —
H.R.3770, the Community Health Investment, Modernization, and Excellence Act of 2017 — that could be discussed in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce next week.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., “already has over 150 bipartisan co-sponsors, and we’re working with more offices now who are interested in signing on,” said her spokesman, Tom Flanagin. “We’re looking at multiple legislative paths forward. Congresswoman Stefanik will continue to build support and hopes to have this legislation passed on its own or included in a broader health care package.”
Flanagin said the law expires Saturday but they hope if the deadline passes to have the money applied retroactively after Congress acts.
The National Association of Community Health Centers warned its members that they will “feel the direct impact of going over the cliff at the start of your next budget period,” as different centers have different fiscal years. Still, health centers are already feeling the pinch.
In Cumming, Ga., Georgia Highlands Medical Services won’t hire the extra primary care doctor it needs until it knows it will get the money, CEO Todd Shifflet says. Georgia Highlands’ centers’ fiscal years run from June through May.
“I’m so tired of being uncertain about the future,” Shifflet says.
Georgia Highlands charges a minimum payment of $35 for a visit for patients who earn less than the federal poverty limit, which about 75% of patients do. Other charges are on a sliding scale based on income.
While some centers charge much less for a visit, Shifflet notes they never turn anyone away for monetary reasons.
“Our mission is to see people who have nowhere else to go,” Shifflet says. “We’re clearly saving the system money on emergency room visits and hospitalization.”
“I’m so tired of being uncertain about the future.” Todd Shifflet, CEO of Georgia Highlands Medical Services