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GOP Budget Plan May Sicken Community Health Centers

February 17, 2011

GRAY, Ky. - Pressured by conservative demands to shrink federal government spending, U.S. House Appropriations chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky is behind a $100 billion government spending reduction plan for the balance of the fiscal year. One targeted program is Community Health Centers that provide medical services for the poor and uninsured.

A proposal to cut $1.3 billion from the health centers is worrying doctors such as David Worthy, CEO of Grace Community Health Center in Gray, Kentucky. Worthy says the cuts would affect plans to serve even more of those in need.

"So for us, we would not be able to start a new access point in Leslie County. We would not be able to hire a new physician in Clay County."

According to the National Association of Community Health Centers(NACHC), there are 18 of the federally-funded facilities in Kentucky that serve close to 270,000 patients. The organization says the proposed cuts would mean a $5 million immediate loss of funding for centers in the Commonwealth, put more than 50,000 Kentuckians at risk of losing access to care, and force the closure of four health centers.

Community Health Centers are located in high-need areas with elevated poverty rates and few practicing physicians. Dr. Worthy says that as a fiscal conservative, he understands the need for financial restraint and debt reduction, but he says community health centers actually save the health care system $24 billion a year nationally.

"There's less ER visits for the uninsured and, interestingly enough, even for the insured, particularly in Medicaid. There's lower hospital admission rates. There's lower hospital re-admission rates. And, there appears to be better overall care for the chronically ill. "

Community health centers are locally run, non-profit medical service providers that primarily treat those with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The NACHC says the cuts would mean the nation's health centers would lose the capacity to serve 11 million patients over the next year.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY