After many patients lost out on an opportunity to gain coverage when the state decided to reject closing the coverage gap, an upcoming slash in federal funding to health centers could now bring more bad news to patients. They are concerned about an upcoming 70 percent funding cut for community health centers, which provide comprehensive quality, primary and preventive care and serve as a medical home for more than 1 million low-income, working Texans.
At a recent campaign kick-off event, local community health centers, patients and administrators explained the impact the cuts could have on thousands of community health center patients.
“A funding cliff of this magnitude could significantly reduce the number of patients southwest Texas community health centers can treat and may make the emergency room the only health care option for some patients, “ said Lillian Lyssy, board member of Atascosa Health Center in Karnes City. “This would increase health care costs for these patients, hospitals and county taxpayers, while also harming the overall health of our communities.”
This worries patients such as Juan Chavira, who has been a CentroMed patient for five years.
“Community health centers provide health care that is accessible, competent and professional to the very poor, the homeless, the working poor, the uninsured and those without access to private doctors. I don’t know where I would go without CentroMed. I hope with statewide support, the coverage gap will remain open so I can continue receiving quality healthcare without worrying about affordability,” said Chavira. “There are more than a million Texans in the same position and this crisis can’t be ignored.”
A group of 73 community health centers operate over 350 clinics around the state, serving more than one million patients annually. Over half of those patients served by the health centers lack health insurance and are charged on a sliding scale based on income.
Atascosa Health Center, Community Health Development, Inc., Frontera Health Network, United Medical Centers and Vida y Salud Health Systems are working together to inform and engage local residents about the impending cuts and the impact it will have on the community’s health. These community health centers serve more than 69,000 patients per year at 26 locations and are often the only doctor’s office in several communities. When combined with other community health centers in the San Antonio metro area, Southwest Texas and the Hill Country, more than 196,000 people in the region rely on health centers as their health care home.
The funding crisis looming for all Texas health centers is partly a result of the state’s decision not to close the coverage gap under the Affordable Care Act.
Under the ACA, these centers were supposed to play a big role in expanding access to affordable health care in the community, and to help them, Congress established the Health Center Trust Fund to help pay for the expansion of services and facilities.
Congress scheduled the trust fund to expire in October 2015, anticipating that the health centers would by then be treating fewer low-income uninsured patients as states closed the coverage gap to cover more low-income residents.
But that didn’t happen in Texas, where the state’s decision not to close the coverage gap left more than one million residents stranded in a coverage gap with incomes too high to qualify under existing rules but too low to access the federal program subsidizing the cost of private insurance.
In recent years, cuts in federal health center permanent funding left community health centers to replace those resources with funds from the Health Center Trust Fund to maintain their current level of service.
The campaign kick-off in Uvalde is part of a statewide effort designed to increase community awareness and engagement regarding closing the coverage gap and the “Health Center Funding Cliff.”
Supporters of community health centers can visit HealthAccessforTexas.org at www.healthaccessfortexas.org to learn more and to sign up as an advocate.