Healthcare advocates are sounding the alarm over funding for community health centers which is set to expire in five days.
If Congress fails to reach agreement on a fix before Saturday, health center budgets will be cut by 70 percent cut, leaving more than 9 million people without access to care.
In Massachusetts, that’s a loss of $196 million in funding which would impact more than 141,000 residents. Of that number,
1,600 patients in Lynn served by the Lynn Community Health Center would be affected.
“We are not panicking yet because there is bipartisan support for this,” said CEO Lori Abrams Berry of the Lynn Community Health Center. “But Congress can’t seem to get their act together and other things are sucking the air out of the room like the effort to abolish Obamacare and tax reform.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, an $11 billion community health center trust fund was established to meet the demand for the increased number of people who have access to healthcare. The new $7 million wing at Lynn Community Health Center, for example, was made possible by the fund, as well as expanded mental health and substance abuse services.
As the trust fund has run out of money, Congress has reauthorized the measure to assist health centers. Until now.
“Massachusetts community health centers provide high-quality primary care to nearly 1 million people, or one out seven state residents,” said James Hunt, president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, a Boston-based nonprofit association which represents the state’s 50 community health center organizations in more than 300 locations. “What’s more, they support about 12,000 jobs, generate close to $1 billion in annual healthcare savings for the state and help to solve complex public health issues like the nation’s devastating opioid crisis. Putting them at financial risk will have tremendous ripple effects for patients, communities and taxpayers.”
In Lynn, 42 percent of the city’s residents rely on the health center for care.
In addition to being essential to Lynn’s economic engine, the health center is home for those who have no other access to quality care, according to Dr. Kiame Mahaniah of the Lynn Community Health Center.
“We are a medically underserved community with significant health disparities brought on by poverty, discrimination, lack of education, and other barriers,” he said. “Continued funding to care for our patients is a matter of social justice.”
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House are urging their colleagues to take immediate action on the Community Health Center funding.
Bay State Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey have joined 68 of their colleagues in signing a letter urging leaders of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to show their strong support for community health centers and to urge a swift resolution to the end of funding at the end of the month.
The Senate letter comes on the heels of bipartisan legislation that would extend the Community Health Centers Fund for five years.
“No one on either side of the isle is opposed to this,” said Berry. “But without action by Congress, it puts us into an uncertain situation.”