How federal funding cliff could impact local community health centers

Medford, Ore. — Time is running out for Congress to re-authorize federal funding for community health centers. A special trust fund was created to provide billions in grant money to community health centers around the nation. That funding will expire at the end of September, but officials locally are hopeful lawmakers will take action before money runs out.

“There’s a special fund for community health centers nationwide,” Julie Wurth, of La Clinica says ,”Congress could re-authorize that at the end of the week, or they could choose not to and that would be a problem for us.”

Community health centers locally and around the country could lose as much as 70% of their federal grant funding.

“For La Clinica that means probably about 6 to 10% of our budget depending on how the cuts happen,” Wurth says.

The impact could be even more significant at Rogue Community Health, where CEO William North says the loss in funding would be about 15% of the overall budget.

“We would not hire additional medical providers as a result of the funding loss,” North says, “and that would mean that we’re not able to take care of as many patients as we’re currently taking care of now.”

Tens of thousands of Oregonians receive care between Medford’s 2 community health center organizations. Whether it’s in a clinic, at school, or on wheels, they provide medical and dental care to anyone who needs it regardless of income or insurance. And while a bill has yet to make it’s way through Congress, officials are hopeful the funding will be re-authorized, it’s just a matter of when.

“We believe that it will occur,” North says, “and we’re just asking that it occurs sooner than later because primarily we’re interested in making sure that care to under served populations does not get compromised.”

If the funding is not re-authorized in the next few months, it will run out early 2018.

We reached out to Oregon lawmakers to see if funding will be secured by then. Representative Greg Walden says, “it is imperative that we finish our work quickly so that community health centers have certainty of funding and can plan for the future,” adding, “I will continue to work to ensure they receive strong funding in a multi-year package that gives them the flexibility they need to continue helping patients in rural and under served areas.”

Senator Ron Wyden said “community health centers are among over 20 so-called “health extenders” that need to be addressed. I hope that democrats and republicans can work together and take action on these bipartisan priorities as quickly as possible.”

And Senator Jeff Merkley says he believes the funding should be extended, and he thinks Congress could approve the funds quickly.

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