Healthcare has dominated much of the political and public debate in the last twelve months. Repeal, replace, subsidies, CSRs, who’s in and who’s out of the Marketplace, how many insurers are in a given county. With the introduction of the Graham-Cassidy bill last week, there is one more attempt to fundamentally change how healthcare is paid for and delivered. However, there is a critical part of the healthcare debate that is receiving little attention – and time is running out.
For over 50 years, Federally Qualified Health Centers, or community health centers, have provided comprehensive, community based, medical, dental and behavioral health care to everyone, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. During those 50 years, health centers have received strong bipartisan support, and have grown to serve nearly 26 million people nationwide. Funded through a combination of federal dollars, foundation grants, and patient revenues, health centers are a cost-effective source of care delivery. Without Congressional action by September 30th, 70% of that federal funding will end, putting health centers and the patients they serve in jeopardy.
In Nebraska, our seven health centers served nearly 85,000 patients last year. Ninety percent of our patients are low income, and one out of every four uninsured individuals in our state receives care at a health center. In fact, Nebraska has the second highest rate of uninsured patients across all health centers in the nation, with 50% of our patients lacking health insurance. The very funding that is at risk at the federal level is intended to care for this population and is at the core of the health center mission. If Congress fails to act, Nebraska health centers will lose $13.2 million dollars. Most importantly, our patients will lose access to critical services. Loss of funding will result in reduced hours, staff eliminations, and reduction of services and clinic locations, forcing patients to access more expensive emergency room visits or forego care all together.
Health centers are a key component of the health care delivery system in Nebraska. In some rural areas, we are the only provider accepting new Medicaid patients. Patients travel hundreds of miles round-trip to visit a health center because they cannot access care anywhere else. Our dental clinics have three to six month waiting lists because of the need for access to care. Now is not the time to put funding at risk.
With all of the noise surrounding health care, it is critical that the health center funding cliff receive the attention it so desperately needs. Congress must act before September 30th. Access to care for the most vulnerable among us is at risk.