Congress, it’s time to fix the health center funding cliff

Guest Commentary

Affinity Health Center is hundreds of miles from the U.S. Capitol, but what happens under that dome has a direct impact on our patients.

Community health centers like ours bring a unique and important perspective to the national conversation on health care. At Affinity Health Center, over the last 12 months, we have provided healthcare services to more than 3,900 patients. Seventy percent of our patients live in poverty. Sixty-one percent of our patients have no insurance coverage. Twenty-nine percent of our patients are homeless or unstably housed. We provide critical services including primary care, dental, mental health and medication assistance for those most in need in our community. We help to reduce costly ER visits, long-term hospitalizations and the impact of chronic diseases. Nationally, health centers generated $24 billion in healthcare cost savings, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). It is also noteworthy that a survey conducted by Capital Link discovered Affinity Health Center saved the state Medicaid program $7 million in 2016.

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There is little doubt that health centers have contributed significantly to cost savings for the American taxpayer. Yet, it is not sufficient to describe us as just another healthcare program. We are problem-solvers that look beyond medical charts to not only prevent illness, but also address societal factors like homelessness, lack of nutrition, unemployment and drug addiction that contribute significantly to poor health.

For decades, health centers have drawn bipartisan support because of our record of success. Yet, such broad support may not be enough to ensure we can continue to serve people who need affordable primary health care in the future.

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Right now, 22 South Carolina health centers face the threat of loss in funding. An estimated 70 percent of our federal funding, which amounts to more than $56M for our state annually, is in jeopardy if Congress doesn’t act by Sept. 30th. Without this funding, more than 60,000 patients will lose access to care in South Carolina. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has projected that the national impact would be dramatic: closure of 2,800 health center locations, elimination of more than 50,000 jobs and a loss of access to care for more than nine million patients. Our patients need Congress to act now to allow us to do what we do best — save lives and money.

info: Anita Case is the executive director of Affinity Health Center in Rock Hill, S.C.


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