Soapbox

Don’t leave community health centers in limbo

Karunyan Arulanantham, right, talks with patient Saul Gonzalez, 17, left, at the Antelope Valley Community Clinic in Lancaster, Calif., in February 2017.
Karunyan Arulanantham, right, talks with patient Saul Gonzalez, 17, left, at the Antelope Valley Community Clinic in Lancaster, Calif., in February 2017. Los Angeles Times/TNS

Last year was hard for the California Primary Care Association. We survived multiple attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, only for Congress to pass a tax bill that ends the individual mandate, leading to 13 million more uninsured in the next ten years.

 
Opinion

As if that wasn’t enough, Congress failed to reauthorize federal funding for the community health center program by the Sept. 30 deadline, despite traditional bipartisan support. Health centers, which could lose 70 percent of their federal funding, are in a state of limbo.

California stands to lose more than $300 million this year. More than 1,300 community health centers serve 6.5 million patients. Under the ACA, the health centers have seen tremendous growth, treating more than half of newly insured residents. Health centers provide 33,000 jobs and contributing nearly $5 billion to the state’s economy.In rural areas, these health centers are sometimes the only access to health care available.

Due to the uncertainty in funding, health centers that were slated to expand their services or facilities have put their plans on hold. Some have ordered a hiring freeze, which means newly trained doctors will take jobs elsewhere. In a state with a shortage of primary care providers, we need all the doctors we can get.

Since the deadline passed in September, we have received assurance after assurance from our congressional representatives that health center funding is a top priority. But we need more than promises. We need Congress, which has only extended funding through March, to find a long-term, bipartisan solution. Health centers and the people they serve are counting on it.

Carmela Castellano-Garcia is president & CEO of the California Primary Care Association. She can be contacted at ccastellano@cpca.org.

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