Congress Must Act on Public Health and Community as the Fiscal Cliff Approaches

Posted: September 27, 2017

By Rep. Karen Bass (D-California) and Louise McCarthy

Each August we celebrate National Health Center Week and acknowledge community health centers as the key to healthier communities. Each September, Congress re-enters an annual—increasingly partisan—dance to figure out how to fund the government.

This month, Congress must take direct action to protect the key programs that make health centers and the services they provide, possible. The fact is that health centers offer much more than health. Without immediate action by Congress to fund the Health Centers Programs and the Children’s’ Health Insurance Program (CHIP), health centers and the communities they serve face an uncertain future.

Non-profit health centers provide high quality care to more than 25 million Americans each year. This includes more than 300,000 veterans, 1.2 million homeless individuals, and 7.5 million children according to 2017 data from the National Association of Community Health Centers. In Los Angeles County, health centers provide comprehensive, integrated, patient-centered care to more than 1.5 million residents. These health centers care for our county’s most vulnerable, including more than half of the people living below poverty.

Health centers offer care, jobs and opportunity for the communities they serve. Elana Frey is one example of someone who benefitted directly from access to a community health center. As a foster youth, she was eligible for Medicaid and thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) she was also able to have access to coverage until the age of 26. Elena chose Venice Family Clinic as her medical home. When she found out she was pregnant in 2016, Elana was already on the right track to have a healthy baby boy. Without Medicaid and the Venice Family Clinic, Elana wouldn’t be able to afford the comprehensive, high quality care she and her son receive.

These coverage expansions provided by Medicaid and the ACA allowed health centers in the 37th District to serve 89 percent more patients between 2010 and 2015. Grants from the 2011 federal Health Centers Program helped health centers add more than 14 new sites within the 37th District. Now more than 156,000 lives in this district depend on health centers to help manage their care.

Beyond patients, communities benefit from health centers and their expansion. New clinic sites mean more jobs and opportunities. Take Lily Evans, a single mother supporting three children. Prior to the ACA, Lily was a part time contracted security officer making minimum wage at the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center. In 2012, Lily was hired as a full time staff member, and in 2015 she was promoted to receptionist. According to Lily, the shift in her career has improved her life tremendously. She now works regular business hours and has more time to spend with her children. The increased pay, along with benefits offered by the clinic, has afforded Lily and her family a better standard of life.

Lily’s situation is not unique: in 2015, JP Morgan Chase reported that health care provided 596,000 jobs in Los Angeles and was the largest source of middle skill jobs in the area.

If Congress does not act now, these expansions in access and jobs cannot be maintained. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that failure to fund health centers will lead to the closure of some 2,800 sites and the elimination of more than 50,000 jobs nationwide.

To continue to innovate and expand access, health centers need a strong foundation. Last month we celebrated the achievements of the community health centers. This month we urge members of Congress to continue their commitment to their communities, and to pass legislation to maintain critical safety-net programs such as CHIP and the Health Centers Program.

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