February 5, 2018 11:22:06 AM
An important health resource for rural residents remains in limbo because of budgetary disputes in the U.S. Congress.
Community health centers have been facing financial uncertainty since their funding expired on Sept. 30. And when U.S. senators reached a deal to fund the federal government though Feb. 8 and renew the Children's Health Insurance Program for six years, it did not include the community health centers.
Federally qualified community health centers receive funding from Congress, allowing them to offer a sliding scale to low-income patients and maintain medical and dental clinics in areas that would otherwise be difficult to serve. For many in rural areas, the community health centers are the only source of health care.
The impact is being felt on the local level.
The Mantachie Clinic has had to lay off four staff members and cut back on hours as of Jan. 1, as reported by the Daily Journal's Michaela Gibson Morris. Executive director Marjorie McKinney said if Congress doesn't act, the center will run out of federal funds in mid-March.
Others have avoided staff reductions but are having to put projects on hold. For instance, Access Family Health has delayed a pharmacy expansion, as well as budgeted pay raises for its staff. The group has community health centers in Houlka, Tremont, Smithville, Tupelo and Nettleton.
In Mississippi, the constraints are compounded as state lawmakers debate changes to the Medicaid program, with uncertainty over how it will look in the future.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Community Health Centers estimates that 9 million patients, more than 2,500 care delivery sites, and 50,000 jobs will be impacted if the funding issue is not resolved soon.
Mississippi's congressional delegation has historically been very supportive of community health centers. Yet, Congress does not appear to be focused on the funding lapse, as it stretches into its fifth month. Some 1,400 centers across the country are facing a 70-percent reduction in program funding.
Community health centers are an important cog in our nation's HealthCare system with their ability to reach into underserved rural areas. By making primary care available to these residents, they are able to help prevent more serious health issues for millions of Americans.
These centers do have other funding sources, including private insurance and Medicare and Medicaid. However, the amount of those sources varies from center to center, and providing care to rural areas is a more difficult financial proposition. That's where these federal funds are so important.
We urge lawmakers to keep them top of mind as they continue to work though budget disputes. It is time to stop overlooking a resource that is critical to health care needs of rural residents.
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