The healthcare system in the United States continues to transform by focusing more than ever on disease prevention and wellness initiatives, while promoting greater access, higher quality and lower costs. However, there is one program with longstanding bi-partisan federal support that is already providing this type of care – the Community Health Center Program.
Access to high quality, affordable healthcare is vital. In Iowa and Illinois, health centers like Community Health Care, Inc. (CHC) are responding to the needs of our communities in both rural and urban areas, particularly in areas with poor health outcomes and minimal access to services. Health Centers provide comprehensive primary care services including medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy and lab. They also strive to address other complex challenges for patients like lack of transportation, food insecurity, homelessness and language barriers. They help make care affordable with a sliding fee discount and more affordable medication.
Without health centers like CHC, many of our friends and neighbors would end up delaying care altogether or would require higher cost options like emergency rooms or hospitalizations when their conditions become too advanced.
Health centers improve lives and generate cost savings across the healthcare system, but the return on investment depends on long-term support from Congress. We thank U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth as well as U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack and Cheri Bustos for their continued support. We are now asking them to work diligently to extend Health Center funding before the September 30, 2019 deadline.
Without federal action, health centers could face a reduction in funding of roughly 70 percent ($4 billion). Locally, CHC’s funding could be reduced by more than $3 million annually.
This type of reduction would be catastrophic to both our national and local primary care infrastructure.
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Health centers currently serve 28 million patients in the U.S. In Iowa, more than 200,000 people use health centers, and in Illinois it is more than 1.4 million. In the Quad Cities and Clinton, CHC has seen its individual patient count grow to more than 40,000.
Stable and predictable federal funding has allowed health centers to expand access and add needed services. In the last few years CHC has added OBGYN care in partnership with Genesis Health System and Genesis Health Group and has significantly grown capacity in providing behavioral health services in partnership with the Robert Young Center. Three years ago, CHC worked with the Clinton community, the Mercy Foundation and the Sisters of St. Francis to open a new site in Clinton, Iowa. That site saw just over 4,000 patients last year.
Health centers are also economic engines in our communities. In the U.S. they generate $54.6 billion annually in total economic activity. CHC employs more than 300 staff and has an operating budget of nearly $30 million. The federal funding is just one part of the support needed for health centers to create this kind of economic impact.
Congress has consistently recognized the value of investing in the health center program. They now have the opportunity to solidify that investment and make sure these vital services are not eliminated or reduced.
Several bi-partisan bills have been introduced in Congress to provide long-term, stable funding for health centers and other programs that help build the primary care workforce we need for the future. We are hopeful our leaders in Congress will do the right thing and extend health center funding beyond the September deadline. The health of our community depends on it.