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Health Centers Holding the Line Until Congressional Funding Arrives

Health centers already facing fiscal hurdles with the increase in the uninsured population and a drop in Medicaid enrollment over the past 12-18 months are facing even bigger challenges with COVID-19. (Public Domain Pictures)
Health centers already facing fiscal hurdles with the increase in the uninsured population and a drop in Medicaid enrollment over the past 12-18 months are facing even bigger challenges with COVID-19. (Public Domain Pictures)
March 24, 2020

DENVER -- Colorado's community health centers have done a complete refiguring of their health delivery models in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and are set to take an enormous hit in their ability to continue to provide care if Congress doesn't approve critical funding.

Polly Anderson, vice president for strategy and financing with the Colorado Community Health Network, said centers also don't have enough personal protective gear for workers or enough testing kits.

"Health centers need immediate funds to stay operational to continue to serve on the front line of this public health crisis," Anderson said. "We also need Congress to act and reauthorize the federal funding for these programs so that we are not in a month-to-month situation when we're most needed."

Federal stopgap funding for centers passed in December but is set to expire on May 22, and Anderson said many staff could face furloughs without additional support. Centers will be reimbursed for telehealth services by providers already approved to bill Medicaid after Gov. Jared Polis announced temporary relief.

But Anderson noted the measure only will cover a portion of the centers' overall costs. She said Congress also should allow reimbursements for telehealth care for Medicare patients, a group at serious risk for complications from COVID-19.

In addition to encouraging clients to follow CDC guidelines to slow the spread of infections, centers are now separating wellness visits from patients showing symptoms.

"Health centers are here for you," Anderson said. "Call before you visit so that they can follow their localized procedures on screening and making sure that we're not exposing individuals to unneeded contact with other individuals."

She said health centers that serve all Coloradans regardless of their ability to pay will continue to do all they can with staff who are mission-driven and dedicated to their patients and their communities, even as they are also concerned with how to keep their own families safe and well.

Disclosure: Colorado Community Health Network contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Poverty Issues, Smoking Prevention, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO