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After Months on Edge, Community Health Centers Poised for Refunding

In Montana, 70 percent of funding for community health centers is at risk if Congress doesn't reauthorize it. (estableman/Pixabay)
In Montana, 70 percent of funding for community health centers is at risk if Congress doesn't reauthorize it. (estableman/Pixabay)
February 8, 2018

HELENA, Mont. – After more than three months on the precipice, funding for community health centers looks poised for reauthorization.

Budget deals in the House and Senate include funding extensions for these centers, which often are lifelines for rural areas.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2016 these facilities served more than 100,000 Montanans in more than 500,000 visits.

Stacey Anderson, deputy director of the Montana Primary Care Association, says the health centers largely serve the state's most vulnerable, many of whom have chronic diseases.

"A lot of them live in poverty,” she points out. “So, about 85 percent of our patients statewide live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and about 20,000 of those patients are also children."

Community health centers have bipartisan support, including from Montana's congressional delegation.

But, like the Children's Health Insurance Program, they have been wrapped up in budget talks. Along with the federal budget, the deadline for funding health centers is Thursday.

A lot is on the line for community health centers. The Kaiser Family Foundation says 20 percent of health centers have reported hiring freezes and four percent have laid off staff nationwide.

In Montana, Anderson says health centers haven't been able to expand their services during the last three months of uncertainty. She says most centers have just been hanging on.

"When you go from having a three-year commitment of funding to a one-month commitment of funding, how do you make the decisions about adding dental services, or how do you make the decision about expanding into opioid treatment?” she states. “Those are long-term investments, and month-to-month funding doesn't allow you to make those decisions."

Anderson says 70 percent of funding for Montana community health centers is at risk if funding isn't reauthorized.

She adds that Sen. Jon Tester of Montana has been a strong supporter of community health centers for many years. Tester would like to see Congress go beyond the two-year funding extension in the budget deal and fund these centers for five years.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT