Each year, over 22 million people depend on our nation’s community health centers. These centers are mandated by law to provide care and full services to anyone who visits, regardless of their ability to pay. Providing everything from primary to dental to behavioral care, community health centers ensure that low-income men, women, children, and families in underserved areas stay healthy. Community health centers are also incredibly cost-effective, providing integrated support and prevention to keep people out of hospitals and emergency rooms. Heartland Health Outreach is proud to be part of the community health center network.
But currently, our community health centers face a financial crisis. A few years ago, Congress recognized that these centers needed additional funding to weather the changes of the Affordable Care Act. With more people insured, community health centers would suddenly have more patients and more revenue streams – and the ability to provide even more services. But Congress also knew that there would be a time gap between the influx of patients and the arrival of revenue. To bridge that gap, they approved federal funding to build the capacity of community health centers in the meantime.
The increased funding made a huge difference. In past years, community health centers have been able to reach more people than ever before. They have also added critical services, facilities, and staff members to provide even more effective support. Moreover, community health centers have provided some of the most cost-effective, highest quality results to people who need help the most. Members of all parties agree: community health centers continue to be one of our best, and most proven, health investments.
But now, the federal funding is set to run out and we face a health center funding cliff. Losing federal grant money means our community health centers could lose up to 70% of their current budgets. When the funding was originally enacted, Congress believed that community health centers would be making insurance revenue and turning profits by 2015. The reality is that the healthcare marketplace is still adjusting. Our community health centers need more time to stabilize in the changing health care marketplace.
Cutting a critical health service’s budget by 70% has obvious consequences. Millions of people will suddenly find their medical, dental, mental, and vision care reduced or eliminated. Thousands of health care workers in communities across the country will lose their jobs. And billions of dollars in care costs will undoubtedly appear as untreated patients go without care and flood emergency rooms.
It is absolutely vital that Congress pledge their support to community health centers sooner rather than later. Without renewed funding, the progress our health centers have made will be lost. Our community health centers also need security and certainty to plan for the future. We stand with the Campaign for America’s Health Centers in their recommendation to expand community health center funding for the next five years.
Do you believe in the power of our community health centers? If so, let your representatives know how you feel! This week, health workers, advocates, and citizens across the country are flooding the inboxes of their leaders to fight for health. Take a stand with us and urge your representative to continue funding one of America’s best health care resources.