10-12-11 Feature Story:
Supporters of Massachusetts' health centers are being asked to support continued funding for the state's 50 community health centers by making calls to Congressional offices and the White House on Thursday, October 13. The "National Mobilization Call-in Day" is part of a broader effort being launched by the National Association of Community Health Centers to strengthen and expand the country's community health center network amid Congressional consideration of deficit reduction proposals, including cuts to Medicaid and funding aimed at expanding community health centers in Massachusetts and across the country.
A 12-member Super Committee, which includes Massachusetts' Senator John F. Kerry, has been charged with recommending $1.2 trillion in spending reductions to the federal budget before the Thanksgiving holiday. The Super Committee's deliberations follow a $600 million cut made to health centers last April as part of a larger $80 billion budget compromise to keep the federal government running.
"Community health centers are intended to be the cornerstone of a national strategy for expanding health access and reducing health costs," said James W. Hunt, Jr., President and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. "In Massachusetts, we have seen the success of investing in community-based health centers. Today, not only do more than 98 percent of our state's residents have health coverage, but many of the formerly uninsured are receiving regular primary care for chronic illnesses that were previously treated through avoidable and expensive emergency room care."
Investments in health centers also have been tied to increasing economic benefits for lower income communities especially hard hit by the economic downturn. A recent study by the nationally-based Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at George Washington University found that the $2 billion in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for health centers helped them produce over $23 billion in total community economic benefits and generate more than 221,000 new jobs.
In addition, the study also found that $11 billion in expansion funding -- originally intended for health center expansion under the nation's Affordable Care Act -- would not only extend health services to 16 million more people, but would generate $54 billion in community economic benefits and create 284,000 new jobs by 2015.
The study also measured the impact of last April's $600 million cut. According to researchers, the $600 million reduction to the health center expansion effort in April 2011 resulted in a $1 billion annual loss in economic benefits for rural and urban medically-underserved communities and communities, and 10,000 fewer job opportunities. These economic losses are on top of reduced health care capacity, affecting nearly 5 million additional children and adults who would have received care had funding not been reduced.
Massachusetts' 50 community health centers provide a broad range of primary and preventive care to one out of every eight state residents through more than 280 satellite sites. They have been front and center in state health reform efforts, taking on more than 100,000 new patients since the law was passed in 2006. Nationally, health centers serve more than 20 million people in over 8,000 locations across the United States.