ShareThis Page
Valley News Dispatch

Community health clinics anxiously await Congressional vote on funding

Madasyn Czebiniak
| Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, 1:12 p.m.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.

The House of Representatives and Senate did not approve a stopgap budget Thursday that would prevent a government shutdown at midnight and provide federal funding to Community Health Centers.

Jim Willshier, a director of a state association that represents such centers, was hopeful that the budget deal could be reached in order for center funding to continue uninterrupted.

“It's been the closest that Congress has been to addressing this issue,” said Willshier, director of policy and partnership for the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers.

Willshier spoke Thursday afternoon, expecting a vote that did not come. The Senate was expected to pass its budget version early today but its fate in the House was uncertain.

The House proposal includes two years of Community Health Center funding at $7 billion and an extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for four years.

Willshier said the funding would allow the roughly 1,400 free or low-cost health care centers across the United States to continue to run without future reductions.

“It's a two-year plan, so it's not permanent, but it fixes the cliff for the foreseeable future,” he said. “It opens the door that they're able to continue services without this pressure of a ‘what-if?' ”

Community health centers have been worried about their funding since September, when the $5.1 billion that funded them for two years expired.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which funds the centers, has been using $550 million appropriated from an earlier stopgap measure, as well as carryover funds, to keep them running.

But that will expire April 30.

Without the measure, every health care center in the nation would experience a reduction of up to 70 percent in the federal funding they receive from HRSA, according to the health centers association.

The uncertainty has forced some Pennsylvania health care centers to come up with contingency plans. Some are looking at closing sites, laying off employees and reducing hours and services.

Willshier said if the measure doesn't pass, more health care centers will likely announce plans of layoffs or reductions of services.

The loss of health centers would be a blow to the millions of people who rely on them. They see anyone regardless of their insurance or ability to pay.

In 2016, such centers served nearly 26 million Americans, or 1 in 12 people. Those numbers included 1 in 10 children, 1 in 3 people living in poverty and more than 330,000 veterans.

Raji Jayakrishnan, the executive director of New Kensington's Community Health Clinic, which has offices in New Kensington and Vandergrift, could not be immediately reached for comment. The health care center offers medical, dental and behavioral health services.

Community Health Clinic previously told the Tribune-Review that it stood to lose 70 percent of its operating budget of just under $2 million if Congress doesn't act.

Officials were hopeful that Congress would grant them the funding they need to continue to serve the community.

Community Health Clinic sees almost 3,000 patients per year.

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me