Right now, Orange County’s community health centers face a severe loss in funding if Congress fails to act and approve the budget for community health centers. This inaction will limit access to essential health care services for hundreds of thousands of Orange County residents who rely on our network of non-profit community based health centers for their medical care. If Congress does not act, emergency room visits will likely increase, costing our healthcare system billions of dollars. One needs to witness the terrible flu season we are currently experiencing to realize the benefit of local access to medical care.
On September 30, 2017, health centers were hopeful that Congress would come to a bipartisan agreement on health center funding before the end of the year, but that did not happen. Health Center funding has always had bi-partisan support and the Health Center Program was significantly expanded under the George W. Bush administration. Instead of renewed funding, a series of continued resolutions have been passed to maintain funding on a month to month basis with the current resolution set to expire on January 19, 2018. This instability is causing panic throughout health centers across the nation.
While members of Congress have given us reassurances that the health center program is a priority, many health centers are wary of their repeated promises.
Nationally, community health centers save the health care system over $24 billion annually by delivering the most cost effective quality healthcare to patients. Collectively health centers receive $3.5 billion a year. This $3.5 billion is the amount at stake. It becomes a simple math equation from here. Invest $3.5 billion in non-profit health centers and save the healthcare system an adjusted $20.5 billion a year.
Congress must prioritize health center funding to stabilize the health care system. This funding accounts for 70 percent of a health center's budget. The elimination of 70 percent of a health center’s funding will have an immediate and devastating impact on California communities as California’s health centers directly employ over 33,000 people, contribute $3.9 billion in spending and treat over 6.5 million people – that’s 1 in 6 Californians.
Each year health centers serve more and more patients in need of services. For instance, one Orange County health center serves over 12,000 patients yearly. Without this support from the federal government, they will lose nearly $1.8 million over the next year.
As a result of the lack action from Congress, uncertainty has caused health centers to postpone plans for expanding facilities and services. Instead, contingency plans are being drawn up that include hiring freezes, eliminating services, and reducing the hours of operation.
Congress, please act now and pass a permanent fix to health center funding. Orange County lives are at stake. Community Health Center funding MUST be included as part of this week’s Continuing Resolution. Health centers cannot wait an entire month – until February 16th – for the next opportunity to enact stable funding.
Isabel Becerra is the chief executive officer of the Coalition of Orange County Health Centers, which represents a network of the county’s community health clinics that provide care to more than 300,000 patients each year.
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