U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has joined colleagues in a bipartisan letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) urging long-term funding of community health centers (CHCs).
The letter, which was cosigned by 25 senators, calls for immediate passage of the Community Health Investment, Modernization and Excellence (CHIME) Act of 2019, which would reauthorize the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) and the National Health Service Corps for five years. Funding for CHCs is set to expire on Nov. 21.
“Community health centers provide affordable health care to our nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” the senators wrote. “More than 29 million patients, including 385,000 veterans and 8.7 million children, receive quality medical, dental, vision, and behavioral health care services from a community health center. These centers work to combat the opioid epidemic, offer preventive care to patients, and treat chronic conditions to improve the health of those they serve while saving taxpayer dollars. On average, health centers save over $2,300 per Medicaid patient and save the health care system $24 billion each year.
“If the CHCF expires, community health centers will lose 70 percent of their federal grant funding. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, this would cause an estimated 2,400 site closures, 47,000 lost jobs, and threaten the health care of approximately nine million Americans. As small businesses, community health centers must have certainty to best serve the needs of their communities and their patients. Some centers will soon have to take steps in anticipation of a funding lapse, including reducing staff and operating hours, cancelling capital projects or even preparing to close their doors. If the CHCF expires next month, community health centers will be unable to plan for the future and continue to better the health of their communities. Additionally, the expiration of the National Health Service Corps and Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education program would harm the ability of health centers to meet their growing workforce needs.”
There are 17 federally-funded community health centers in Maryland serving more than 328,000 patients at 137 sites of care. Fourteen percent of these patients are uninsured, 50 percent are on Medicaid and 66 percent are patients from communities of color. In fiscal 2018 Maryland received $183,552 in Community Health Center Funds. These funds aid CHCs in expanding behavioral health and oral health services.