Fighting for funding of critical safety net programs while Congress debates tax reform

Fighting for funding of critical safety net programs while Congress debates tax reform

By Louise McCarthy and Mayra E. Alvarez

As Congress’ tax reform debate dominates the headlines, their failure to act on key health programs has left the safety net hanging in the balance. Congress must act now to protect access and coverage for our most vulnerable residents.

On Sept. 30, Congress neglected to reauthorize funding for community health centers and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, leaving both programs in a free fall.

Effective Jan. 1, absent immediate action by Congress, community health centers face a 70 percent cut to their federal funding. The federal Department of Health and Human Services estimates this will result in the closure of 2,800 health center locations, elimination of more than 50,000 jobs, and a loss of access to care for more than 9 million patients. A survey of health centers nationwide found that more than 70 percent will institute a hiring freeze, and nearly half (43 percent) say they will cut services if funding is not extended.

In California, the impact will be grim. One in seven Californians depend on health centers for care. In L.A. County, health centers serve over 1.5 million patients annually, most of whom live below the federal poverty level. California’s health centers stand to lose over $300 million per year due to Congress’ inaction. For Northeast Valley Health Corporation, which operates 14 clinics in the San Fernando Valley, these cuts will disrupt operations and threaten vital health programs. St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in South L.A. anticipates that it may be forced to close clinic sites or cut services for more than 5,000 patients. Venice Family Clinic in West Los Angeles stands to lose several million in funding, jeopardizing access to care for nearly 2,000 patients.

This situation is just as dire for the CHIP. If Congress fails to extend CHIP, California will exhaust its CHIP funds at the end of this year. CHIP has been pivotal in helping California kids access coverage, with 97 percent of California children now insured. More than 2 million children and pregnant women currently rely on CHIP in California, and would stand to lose coverage if Congress doesn’t act. These are children like Isabella, who lives with cerebral palsy and has had great success in managing her condition thanks to the treatment her CHIP coverage provides. Isabella, like millions of Americans, has had her life transformed by this program.

Both CHIP and the community health centers program have been widely recognized as a sound investment by Republicans and Democrats alike. Despite this bipartisan support, the programs face an uncertain future.

The millions of Americans who depend on these critical programs cannot and should not be left hanging in the balance. It is crucial for Congress to take immediate action to ensure that these programs are funded. Funding health centers and CHIP should be an easy victory for lawmakers and would be a win for the health of California. Congress must take action now.

Louise McCarthy, MPP, is president and CEO of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County. Mayra E. Alvarez is president of the Children’s Partnership.