California’s community health centers make contingency plans

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Funding expired in September, preparing for the worst

SAN FRANCISCO – California’s health care delivery system has a $230 million hole that still hasn’t been fixed. Today, more than 1,300 community health centers serve the state of California and provide comprehensive, high-quality care to 6.5 million people. A majority of these health centers rely in part on federal funding to ensure they can provide primary health care to anyone who needs it. That funding has been in limbo since September, when the federal appropriation expired.

In response, community health centers in California — and the other 10,000 across the nation — have been developing contingency plans in the event that Congress fails to fully re-authorize health center funds. In recognition of the cost-effective high-quality care rendered by health centers, bi-partisan support has fully funded the health center program every year since the program’s inception. This year, however, health centers and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) were only provided with patchwork funding through March. Without the full authorization, health centers will lose 70 percent of their federal funding, which in California translates to over $200 million in this year alone. A loss of this magnitude will have consequences for hundreds of communities throughout California, including health center staff lay-offs, loss of services and reduction in hours of operation.

In San Francisco, the Federal Health Care for the Homeless funds would be drastically reduced, as well as funding for community health centers that provide care for everyone, regardless of ability to pay. Health Care for the Homeless funds are used for urgent responses to health crisis — for example, the program helped make sure that Hepatitis A vaccines were distributed to homeless people in San Francisco, after the homeless population in other California cities endured a spike in cases. Skin infections are treated immediately on the mobile homeless van before they become worse and require hospitalization. Complex, vulnerable patients are connected to primary care. Funding instability has already caused health centers to create contingency plans if they lose those funds. Some health centers have postponed expanding facilities and services, while others have initiated a hiring freeze.

“Re-authorizing CHIP and community health centers is an urgent, bi-partisan priority that is overwhelmingly supported by the American people,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Families in California should not be made to suffer because of partisan obstruction in Washington. We are all grateful to the SFCCC’s tireless work in the fight to re-authorize vital health care funding and to provide vital life-saving care to those who need it most.”

The health center program is nothing less than vital to California’s health care system. One in six Californians call a community health center their medical home. They provide the full spectrum of care, including primary care, dental, behavioral health care and vision services, and support services like transportation and dietary counseling. Moreover, health centers contribute over $5 billion to California’s economy and employ 33,000 people. With assurances of funding only through March, and not knowing if they will receive the full funding, health centers are unable to plan for the future. As Sabra Matovsky, CEO of the San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium, states, “As community health centers continue to provide for California’s most vulnerable communities, there must be bi-partisan solutions to stabilize health center funding for the future. It’s not too late for Congress to act.”

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