The health of more than 25 million Americans is on the line as the next congressional showdown approaches

  • Funding for community health centres that provide healthcare for more than 25 million Americans is in jeopardy.
  • The Community Health Center Fund, which provides 70% of the funding to the centres, expired September 30.
  • A plan to restore funding is likely going to be attached to the legislation fought over during the next government-shutdown discussion.

The next government-shutdown showdown will be critical for the more than 1,300 health centres across the US that serve more than 25 million Americans.

Community health centres provide services as varied as primary care, mental-health services, dental care, and addiction services to underserved areas across the US.

They’re primarily funded by the Community Health Center Fund. Of the $US5.1 billion health centres got in 2017, $US3.6 billion came from the CHCF, while $US1.5 billion came from annual federal appropriations. The fund, initially established by the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to last for five years, was extended in 2015 for another two years.

The CHCF, however, expired on September 30, along with funding for Children’s Health Insurance Program. While CHIP funding was restored as part of the January deal to reopen the government, the CHCF was not.

The uncertainty around the funding is putting the centres in a difficult spot.

“I am very worried that Congress will do nothing, that the president will do nothing, and that we will be faced with making – I don’t want to overstate – but catastrophic decisions,” Marjorie Hill, the CEO of the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center in New York, told Bloomberg.

To counter the funding shortage, some of the centres are planning on or already implementing hiring freezes, halting plans to renovate, and potentially considering scrapping services like translation services, transportation, and possibly even dental and mental-health services, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

It’s likely that funding for the centres will be included in the bill the government will need to pass to keep the government from shutting down again. Congress has until February 8 to pass that legislation.

The lapse in funding is on the radars of both Republicans and Democrats.

“Republicans support community health centres and are continuing to work to fund the program for the long term,” Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon wrote in a January 26 op-ed article.

“Congress must act immediately to fully fund community health centres,” Sen.Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in a tweet Friday.