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Funding Cliff Nears for Community Health Centers

The nation's Child Health Insurance Program, which serves some 9 million children, is set to expire on Oct. 1. (Getty Images)
The nation's Child Health Insurance Program, which serves some 9 million children, is set to expire on Oct. 1. (Getty Images)
September 22, 2017

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. - As the Senate races to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act before Sept. 30, another health deadline is getting much less attention. If the U.S. House does not renew funding before Oct. 1 for the Health Centers Program, which 1,400 health centers serving 27 million patients nationwide depend on, the program could lose 70 percent of its federal funding.

"There's about 62,000 patients who get their care through community health centers in Colorado who are at risk of losing their care," said Ross Brooks, chief executive of Mountain Family Health Centers. "At my community health center in western Colorado, there's about 6,000 patients that are at risk."

The Community Health Investment Modernization and Excellence (CHIME) Act (HR 3770) has been introduced in the House, which Brooks says would provide level funding this year and guarantee a solid stream of funding over the next five years. The bill currently has 13 co-sponsors, and two members of Colorado's delegation have said they'll officially join the effort after recess.

The Child Health Insurance Program, serving some 9 million children nationally, also expires on Oct. 1. Last week, members of the Senate Finance Committee agreed in principle to extend the CHIP program another five years. If the GOP succeeds in repealing Medicaid expansion and if CHIP is not funded, Brooks said, nearly 600,000 Coloradans could lose coverage.

"You'll have significant downstream negative impacts, where people's only choice will be to use the emergency room in the hospital," he said, "and not only is that bad for our individual health, but that will have very negative impacts on the total cost of care."

The uncertainty around funding already is causing problems with recruiting and retaining staff and maintaining cash flow, Brooks said, adding that it also has put a pause on some equipment purchases and badly needed renovation projects.

Details of the CHIME Act are online at congress.gov.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO