Advocates in Massachusetts and across the country are sounding the alarm over critical funding for community health centers which expired on September 30. Without quick action by Congress, health centers will be subject to a 70 percent cut, leaving more than 9 million vulnerable people without access to health care. For Massachusetts, that means a loss of $196 million in funding and more than 141,000 state residents affected.
"Massachusetts community health centers provide high-quality primary care to nearly one million people, or one out seven state residents," said James W. Hunt, Jr., president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. "What's more, they support about 12,000 jobs, generate close to one billion dollars in annual healthcare savings for the Commonwealth and help to problem-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."
The cuts would have significant impact on health centers' financial operations, severely limiting their ability to recruit and retain staff. According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, without a funding extension for health centers, 50,000 staff positions -- including physicians and nurses -- could be eliminated and 2,800 health center locations forced to shut their doors.
Added Hunt: "Even the uncertainty of a fix is creating business disruptions for Massachusetts health centers, including hiring freezes and unplanned delays in expansion projects to add needed services and new sites. In one case, a health center has delayed plans to hire more care management staff, effectively preventing its Accountable Care Organization from fully implementing its goals to improve care outcomes and lower costs."
A growing number of Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House are urging their colleagues to take immediate action on the looming funding cliff.
Massachusetts' Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey have joined 68 of their Senate colleagues in signing a Senate letter urging leaders of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to show their strong support for community health centers and to urge a swift resolution to the funding cliff community health centers face at the end of the month.
In the House, more than 170 Representatives, including Massachusetts delegation members Tsongas, McGovern, Moulton, Capuano, Lynch and Keating, have co-sponsored "The Community Health Investment, Modernization and Excellence (CHIME) Act/HR 3770 of 2017," which lays out a 5-year fix to the funding cliff. In recent days, a companion bill in the Senate, CHIME Act, S. 1899, does the same.
“Community health center advocates understand the stakes and will continue to push for a bi-partisan solution to preserve the gains and the future of a program that generates benefits that go far beyond the people it directly serves,” said Hunt.