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Community health centers caught in 'Washington's political dysfunction'

Steven Findlay, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Hawkins and health policy experts speculate that the impasse is due to disagreements over both the level of funding and the number of years of funding. Democrats are reportedly pushing for five to six years, but Republicans may favor a shorter period.

Republicans are seeking reductions in other areas of the federal budget to offset health center spending. That requirement was not imposed in the past.

Staffers in the offices of Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who are leading talks over health center funding, said negotiations are active and there's agreement among members of both parties that the issue needs to be resolved as soon as possible.

Community health center leaders and patients are closely monitoring the efforts.

California has the nation's largest network of health centers. More than 1,300 centers care for 1 of every 6 Californians -- 6.5 million people. Half are enrolled in Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program.

"We planned to open an additional clinic this year, but we're in a waiting mode now," said Dave Jones, CEO of Mountain Valleys Health Centers, which operates six community clinics near the town of Redding in Northern California. The centers serve around 10,000 people each year.

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Jones said they probably would have to close one of six sites if Congress reduces funding.

"The way this has gone has not been helpful at all, to say the least," Jones said.

Anderson Valley Health Center in Boonville, Calif., faces much the same predicament. The small center treats 2,800 patients a year, 45 percent of whom are low-income farmworkers.

"We planned to renovate our building this year, but we're holding off to see what happens," said Chloe Guazzone-Rugebregt, the center's executive director.

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