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WA Community Health Centers Peer Over a "Funding Cliff"

PHOTO: Community Health Centers serve more than 22 million people nationwide, mostly low-wage workers and the uninsured. They say they'd have to cut that number by 25 percent if Congress doesn't reauthorize some of their funding in 2015. Photo credit: Fotosmurf03/iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Community Health Centers serve more than 22 million people nationwide, mostly low-wage workers and the uninsured. They say they'd have to cut that number by 25 percent if Congress doesn't reauthorize some of their funding in 2015. Photo credit: Fotosmurf03/iStockphoto.com
July 18, 2014

YAKIMA, Wash. – They're calling it a health care funding cliff.

Community Health Centers, including those in Washington, face what's being described as a dramatic funding cut next year.

The centers are local clinics that treat patients no matter their insurance status or ability to pay, and they've been expanding their facilities to meet the added demands of the Affordable Care Act.

For the five Central Washington clinics of Yakima Neighborhood Health Services, CEO Anita Monoian says scaling back would come at the wrong time, when there's already a shortage of doctors in rural areas.

"Now is the time to invest in what works, and fix this primary care cliff,” she stresses. “We have got to continue to grow and expand our efforts, particularly in the family practice physicians, internal medicine, pediatricians and obstetricians. "

Monoian says cutbacks would affect not only clinic operations, but related programs to recruit and train young doctors for careers in small towns.

Part of the Community Health Centers' funding runs out unless it's reauthorized by Congress by next fall.

Nationally, the centers say a cutback would mean care for 7 million fewer patients by 2020.

Dr. Gary Wiltz is board chairman of the National Association of Community Health Centers. As a doctor in rural Louisiana, he says a health clinic also can be a big economic boost to a small community.

"We're employing 250,000 people nationwide,” he points out. “You know, fairly good-paying jobs. And by nature, we are located particularly in the rural areas, like I'm in."

He says the majority of Community Health Center patients are low-wage workers, some of whom have health insurance but can't afford medical expenses or are in states that haven't expanded their Medicaid programs.

He adds the centers have launched a push for continued funding, called Access is the Answer.

"Primary care is the foundation that this country needs to be built on,” he says. “If you have good health promotion, disease prevention, primary care, then you'll have a healthier population and the dividends will pay off tremendously as we move forward."

Studies have praised Community Health Centers for their effectiveness at keeping costs down and making health care accessible.

Wiltz says the system has its champions in Congress, including some Washington lawmakers, but no guarantees that funding will be maintained.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA