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Congress' Funding Stumble Deepens Crisis for Health Centers

The funding resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years, but not other key programs health centers rely on. (Pixabay)
The funding resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years, but not other key programs health centers rely on. (Pixabay)
January 22, 2018

DENVER – If Congress doesn't find a way to include a fix for federal funding for community health centers, facilities across Colorado will take a severe funding hit as early as March.

Congress allowed several programs that centers depend on for funding patient care, including the Children's Health Insurance Program, to expire last September.

Polly Anderson, vice president of strategy and financing for the Colorado Community Health Network, says these programs, which traditionally have enjoyed bipartisan support, are now caught up in an increasingly polarized Congress.

"It's getting tangled up in DACA, it's getting tangled up in defense spending,” she points out. “And it's really a matter of getting a funding package together that the House and Senate, and the Democrats and Republicans in each of those houses, can agree to."

Anderson says along with patient co-pays and insurance reimbursements, federal dollars are essential for health centers that provide primary and preventive care to more than 740,000 Coloradans.

She adds all nine members of Colorado's congressional delegation have said they support continued funding.

Anderson notes the uncertainty has caused staff morale to drop, and has made it even more difficult to recruit and retain staff who often work in remote areas of the state.

And she says Congress' inaction has also affected patient trust.

"A lot of Coloradans and a lot of people across this country rely on community health centers for their care,” she states. “And this uncertainty, with this month-to-month funding, makes it really difficult to run a business, because even though they're nonprofit, they need to make payroll; they need to have money to keep the lights on."

Anderson warns without strong health centers with open access, even for people who can't afford insurance, patients tend to delay care and often end up making costly trips to an emergency room.

More than 90 percent of community health center patients are living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.


Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO