After a very brief government shutdown, the people who have defended Senate Democrats’s decision to relent so quickly have argued that at least Democrats secured six years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, while funding the government for only three more weeks—thus creating another leverage point to secure a solution for 700,000 Americans brought here as children. That last part is debatable, as my colleague Joan Walsh explained. But on the health-care side of this equation, Democrats still, unforgivably, left too many people behind.
Community health centers were first funded in the Affordable Care Act in 2009. One in every 12 Americans depends on these publicly funded clinics for their access to health care, including the most vulnerable people in our society. If you support CHIP, then recognize that 40 percent of CHIP-eligible children get their care at a community health center. If you support immigration, recognize that community health centers don’t turn away patients over their immigration status, making them one of the few health networks that undocumented people can access. If you support eradicating poverty, practically no other program does as much. Community health centers serve all comers, regardless of ability to pay, and are often located in medical deserts, both rural and urban, that have no other options of health-care providers within 50 miles or more. Three-quarters of all community health center patients are below the poverty line.
In September, 70 percent of federal funding for community health centers expired, despite broad bipartisan support. A funding bill last December provided stopgap spending only until March. That means that in six weeks 2,800 facilities, with 50,000 provider and staff jobs, are at risk. So are the 9 million Americans who rely on these centers for health care. Communities throughout the country, from rural Nevada to Worcester, Massachusetts, to Montana have been screaming for help to prevent the looming crisis.
Congress didn’t listen. And by reauthorizing CHIP without concurrently doing so for community health centers, the flagship policy that could have pulled along community health centers is gone. Like it or not, that’s often how Congress works, with one higher-profile policy allowing less-heralded but equally critical measures to advance.