Lawmakers urge funding for low-income health providers

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Congress last month renewed funding for federal children’s health insurance as part of a stopgap spending bill, but lawmakers have yet to extend support that expired at the end of September for community health centers.

In Michigan, 45 community health clinics stand to lose more than 70 percent of their federal funding, affecting roughly 700,000 people they serve a year across 300 underserved urban and rural communities.

Michigan’s health centers have activated contingency funding plans, with many working to determine whether they will have to close sites or reduce hours, said Jen Anderson, spokeswoman for the Michigan Primary Care Association.

Great Lakes Bay Health Centers has already given 90-day cancellation notices to some of their physicians, and other clinics have put planned expansions on hold, Anderson said.

“Having to make budget plans on month- to-month basis isn’t any way to run a business, much less a primary care network,” she said.

A short-term spending bill up approved Tuesday in the U.S. House would fund the federal government through March 23 and reauthorize the health centers for two years, but the legislation’s fate in the Senate is uncertain. Current funding for the government expires at midnight Thursday.

A bipartisan group of 67 senators led by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, on Monday urged Senate leadership to “immediately” reauthorize funding for community health centers, which largely serve low-income and uninsured families.

The lawmakers said failure to extend the Community Health Center Fund could result in the closure of an estimated 2,800 sites, the loss of 50,000 jobs and approximately 9 million people losing access to health care.

“Community health centers serve a vital function, providing affordable health care to our nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” the senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

“They provide quality medical, dental, vision and behavioral health care to more than 27 million patients, including 330,000 of our nation’s veterans and 8 million children, at over 10,000 sites nationwide.”

The lawmakers also said the expiration of the National Health Service Corps and Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education program “threatens the ability of health centers to meet their workforce needs.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, was among those who signed Monday’s letter.

“In the last few years, we have not been functional,” Peters said in the floor recently.

“As I stand here, health care for over 600,000 Michiganders, including over 12,000 Michigan veterans, remains at risk as we have blown through deadline after deadline to fund Community Health Centers, a program that provides cost-effective care to millions of Americans in both rural and urban areas across this nation.”

Stabenow and Blunt previously sent a letter in September asking the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to extend funding for community health centers.