Opinion

Community health centers facing ‘funding cliff’ – Ken Reeb and Abigail DeVries

There is a critical issue facing the United States that North Carolina residents need to be aware of and vigilant about. Most are generally aware of the debate in Washington, D.C., over health-care policy, but fewer people know about the “funding cliff” facing community health centers on September 30, 2017.

Community health centers are private, nonprofit organizations that provide high-quality, affordable, and comprehensive primary health care to anyone who walks in the door, regardless of ability to pay. Fees for service are on a sliding scale and all forms of insurance are accepted. They offer “one-stop” services for medical care, with many also offering dental and pharmaceutical care, as well as a variety of other services related to physical and mental health such as behavioral health and nutrition education.

Community health centers have been around for more than 50 years and are in every state. They now provide care for one in 15 Americans.

In North Carolina, there are 39 health center organizations across the state with more than 220 sites. Chapel Hill-based Piedmont Health Services, for example, has 10 community health centers in the Piedmont region, including the Chapel Hill Community Health Center.

Although most revenue for community health centers comes from patient fees and other private sources, the centers could not afford to keep their services affordable for all without federal grants. Community health centers have received federal funding throughout their existence, but they are currently facing a potential crisis.

The program that provides these centers with crucial funding will expire Sept. 30 and if Congress fails to act before then, the centers will lose 70 percent of their federal funding. That would be disastrous for community health centers. In North Carolina alone, 800 direct jobs could be lost. Many of those jobs are in rural and/or low-income communities, and include staff at all levels, like front desk staff and other office jobs as well as medical providers. Worse, 115,000 patients in the state could lose access to care.

We are urging North Carolina residents to contact their elected officials and urge them to help save health-care jobs and keep affordable, high-quality health care available to all here in North Carolina. To call, dial (866) 456-3949 and enter your ZIP code. The voice mail will prompt you to select the U.S. senator you want to contact and will connect you with the Member of Congress who represents you.

To send an email, visit this link: http://p2a.co/OMa7sEt. That link also will connect you with both North Carolina senators and with your member of Congress.

While the debate over health care has produced much partisan division, community health centers do not have to fall through the cracks while this debate is being resolved. This cliff is a potential disaster that does not have to happen. The more calls we make, the louder Washington will hear the need to act.

Ken Reeb is the chairperson of the Board of Directors and Abigail DeVries, M.D., is the medical director of Piedmont Health Services Inc.

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