Community Health Care Inc. Homeless Outreach Clinic

The Community Health Care Outreach Clinic, 303 W. 6th St., Davenport, often is a busy place.

Jeff Cook, QUAD-CITY TIMES FILE PHOTO

It's not the health care issue that's been at the top of the agenda in Congress lately, but at the end of this week, authorization for a key source of federal funding for community health centers is scheduled to expire.

That has set off worries across the country, and health center officials are drafting contingency plans in the event that funding is cut off or reduced.

"I'm not in panic mode yet, but access would be severely limited," Tom Bowman, chief executive officer of Community Health Care Inc., or CHC, said this week.

With operations on both sides of the river, CHC has 36,000 patients and is the area's largest provider of primary care to underserved and low-income populations.

Community health centers got a boost in funding through the Affordable Care Act to help pay for the additional patients they expected because of the newly insured. However, the special fund the law created lasted only through 2015.

Congress granted a two-year extension in 2015, but it runs out Saturday, which is the end of the 2017 federal fiscal year.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday that Congress will surely extend funding.

"It may not be extended by midnight of September the 30th, but it's going to be extended because this is something that has broad, bipartisan support and has always had broad, bipartisan support," Grassley said.

Lawmakers from the Senate and House, including from Iowa, have urged leaders to act quickly.

"Without access to these services, many people delay seeking health care until they are seriously ill, and often times require costlier interventions in the hospital or emergency room," Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said on Wednesday.

Still, it's not clear when an extension will happen, and Congress already has an agenda this fall that includes dealing with disaster assistance requests, tax reform, an increase in the debt ceiling, extending the Children's Health Insurance Program, which also expires Saturday, and funding the government in 2018.

In the Quad-Cities, the funding at risk provides CHC with $3.1 million, the bulk of its federal funding.

If that money isn't restored within three to six months, CHC would need to begin phasing in contingency plans, Bowman said. If no long-term plan is put into place, 4,000 to 6,000 patients could have their access to health care affected.

"We have prepared to be able to manage short-term challenges like this," Bowman said. "It seems, though, that legislation doesn’t move fast enough, and it isn’t until a program is on the line that action is taken."

Community health centers are the primary medical home for 27 million Americans in 9,800 communities across the country, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.

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