SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Seven million Californians get medical treatment at Community Health Centers each year, and those centers say funding issues for this crucial part of the safety net are throwing the system into chaos.
Starting today, thousands of providers are gathering in Washington, D.C., to chart a path forward and fan out across Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers.
James Luisi, chief executive of NEW Health in Boston and board chair for the National Association of Community Health Centers, said he wants Congress to approve the Community Health Investment, Modernization and Excellence (CHIME) Act, which would approve funding in five-year blocks.
“We want that funding extended, hopefully for at least another five years,” he said, “so that we can have some stable funding; and so that health centers will be able to access capital and meet their needs without worrying about going back and advocating for that funding to be extended again.”
Community health centers treat people even if they’re uninsured or can’t pay in full. But last fall, Congress let their funding run out and took several months to pass a temporary fix. Luisi noted that the health centers have bipartisan support, but in the past, a longer-term funding solution has been crowded out in Congress by other priorities.
Andie Martinez Patterson, director of government affairs for the California Primary Care Association, a nonprofit that represents community health centers in California, said their success must be a priority because they’re on the front lines in the fight against poverty, the opioid crisis and chronic diseases.
“They provide access to anyone regardless of immigration status, regardless of ability to pay,” she said. “They provide comprehensive services – so, besides just primary care, most of them have dental as well as behavioral health services.”
Across the country, community health centers serve 28 million patients per year, including more than 355,000 veterans and 8 million children, at more than 11,000 clinics.