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Health centers subject to major cuts if federal budget sequester takes effect; Could impede MA efforts to expand care to more patients in need

2-28-13 Feature Story:

Massachusetts community health centers could be thwarted in their efforts to expand care to more residents in need if the looming federal budget sequester is allowed to take effect on March 1. The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) estimates a potential loss of $120 million in national funding, which translates into approximately 900,000 fewer patients being served across the country. In response, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and its member health centers are working to determine the impact of these cuts at the state and local level.

"Massachusetts health centers cannot absorb more cuts in federal funding and still be expected to maintain and grow primary care services to the most vulnerable," said James W. Hunt, Jr., President and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.

In Massachusetts, health centers are already faced with declining operating margins due to steady losses in grant funding and a lack of state Medicaid or Commonwealth Care rate increases over the last 4 years. Nearly half of all Massachusetts health centers experienced operating deficits in 2011, with significant losses continuing in 2012 and 2013. Sequestration will only intensify these challenges as reductions in federal revenue will prevent necessary state investments in health care.

"Continuing proposals to cap or cut Medicaid, reduce Medicare payments and underfund medical providers are creating increased uncertainty and threatening vital services," said Hunt. "What's more, across-the-board cuts allow policymakers to avoid making the hard decisions about program priorities at the state and federal level."

Added Hunt: "Community health centers have been designated as a cornerstone of health reform based on their track record in expanding access to quality, cost-effective care. Investments in our programs at both the state and federal level must continue if reforms are to succeed. Congress must find a way to delay or replace the sequester and apply a more thoughtful approach to balancing the need for new revenue and deficit reduction that doesn't deny access to basic health care services for millions of Americans."

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