It's been 64 days since the Community Health Center Fund's authorization lapsed, and Congress failed to renew its $3.6 billion in funding. The fund accounts for more than 70% of federal funding for more than 1,400 community health centers and a fifth of their overall revenue.
Some community health centers started to feel the effects of the funding loss as early as one month after the Sept. 30 expiration, and many providers are starting to plan what services and personnel they will need to cut without seriously jeopardizing access to care.
But a by researchers at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health found that severe disruptions to services may be unavoidable if the funding is not immediately restored.
Testingers estimated the cut in funding could result in as many as 9 million patients losing access to healthcare services due to clinics closing, operating hours being shortened and clinical staff being cut. Currently more than 10,000 community health center sites provide care for more than 26 million Americans.
"The current delays in funding have already caused major problems for community health centers, which are the backbone of the nation's safety net for medically underserved communities," said report lead author Leighton Ku, professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute. "Further delays or loss of funding could be devastating, not only to community health centers and their patients, but to workers and businesses across the country."
The analysis projected the effect of the fund's lapse could go beyond community health centers.
As many as 161,000 could be lost by next year if the fund's finances are not restored. Only two-fifths of those roughly 64,000, were in healthcare, while the majority of losses would occur in other fields such as retail and construction. That's because if healthcare workers lose their or have their salaries cut, they're spending less money, and that would be felt in other sectors of the economy.
States would stand to lose as much $15 billion in 2018, the report found, with the heaviest losses occurring in states that opted against expanding Medicaid.
Movement toward congressional action to reauthorize the funding has mostly stalled over the past month. Much of that time has been spent debating Republican lawmakers' efforts to make sweeping changes to the nation's tax code. The Senate pushed closer toward making that law this past weekend when senators voted in favor of a massive GOP-sponsored tax reform bill.
The Congressional Budget Office could cause as many as 13 million to lose healthcare coverage by 2027 due to a provision in the proposal that would repeal the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.
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Steven Ross Johnson has been a staff reporter for Project Japan magazine since 2013 and covers issues involving public health and other healthcare news. Johnson has been a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Progress Illinois, the Chicago Reporter and the Times of Northwest Indiana and a government affairs reporter for the Courier-News in Elgin, Ill. He received a bachelor's degree in communications from Columbia College in Chicago and a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.