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A Word From The CEO

Mary Geegan Middleton, CEO

Time For Congress to Act to Fix the Health Center Funding Cliff
Cassopolis, MI, January 29, 2018
By Mary Geegan Middleton, CEO

Health care can be one of the more divisive political issues that any policymaker has to work on. Every decision made in the Congress, or in this case every decision not made, has a real impact on people’s lives. As Congress continues to debate ways to move our system to one that’s focused on patient needs, with greater access, higher quality and lower costs, there’s one solution virtually all of us agree on: Community Health Centers. Yet critical funding for these centers expired at the end of September, and Congress has yet to fix the funding cliff for this nationwide program. Congress needs to pass a budget for the federal government that includes funding for Community Health Centers!

Begun more than fifty years ago, today our nation’s Community Health Centers (CHCs) are located in every state, in nearly 11,000 communities across the country, representing the nation’s largest primary care network. CHCs offer comprehensive and high-quality care to everyone who walks through their doors – over 27 million people nationally. That’s 1 in 12 Americans. Even more striking, 1 in 6 Americans in rural areas, 1 in 10 children, 1 in 3 Americans living in poverty, get their care at a CHC.
Cassopolis Family Clinic Network, which has health center sites in Cassopolis and Niles, served 13,088 people in 2017. Unfortunately, if Congress doesn’t act, and act quickly, our CHC – and the patients we serve – are at serious risk.

Congress has a full plate. But one thing it must prioritize is the extension of funding for Community Health Centers. If Congress doesn’t act to extend this critical funding, CHCs will face a 70% reduction in federal support. According to the Federal Government’s own estimates, that level of reduction would lead to closure of some 2,800 CHC locations, loss of more than 50,000 jobs, and most importantly, a loss of access to care for some 9 million patients.

That’s not just a humanitarian disaster, it’s a fiscal one as well. If patients don’t have access to primary care in their communities, they turn to hospital emergency rooms for routine care, or defer needed care until their health problems are more serious and more costly. That’s common sense, but the research on this topic shows it’s the reality. A 2016 study showed that when patients on Medicaid get their care at a CHC, their total cost of care was lower by 24%. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is the reality happening at Community Health Centers every day.

On a bipartisan basis and through successive administrations, Congress has invested in CHCs, bringing new health centers to communities in need and adding services like dental care and substance abuse treatment to meet the needs of patients. Indeed, the funding authorization for CHCs was passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis in 2015 – a rarity in this political environment.

With so much uncertainty in our health care system, let’s build on consensus and build on success. I urge Congress to support extending funding for CHCs on a multi-year basis with at least the current levels of funding, so that our community knows it has a stable and reliable place to go for care.