Com­mu­ni­ties may lose health cen­ter fund­ing

Congress must act this week­end to quell loss

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Jayne O’Don­nell and Holly Fletcher Con­tribut­ing: Eliza Collins in Wash­ing­ton

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

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