(Austin) – Local health care leaders expressed relief Friday after Congress approved a two-year spending bill, which supports local community health centers serving historically underserved communities.
“This is enormously important to Travis County,” said Jaeson Fournier, CEO of CommUnityCare Health Centers. “Without this funding, CommUnityCare stood to lose almost $4.2 million in federal grant funds, which would have been devastating to our community and the over 96,000 patients we served last year. We’re extremely relieved.”
Funded in part by Central Health, CommUnityCare operates 20 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) around Travis County. “In many cases these are one-stop community health centers,” said Dr. Guadalupe Zamora, Central Health Board Chair. “As a physician caring for people who historically have been underserved, I see every day how community health centers are vital to our community’s wellbeing. They give people with low income access to doctors, dentists, mammograms, pharmacy and prescriptions, and many, many other services.”
The spending bill passed by Congress Friday and signed by the President provides more than $7 billion for community health center funding, essentially filling the 70 percent fiscal cliff gap that has loomed since October. The funding extends through September 30, 2019.
Fournier noted Congress has not yet approved discretionary appropriations worth about $1.5 billion for the nation’s community health centers. For CommUnityCare these additional appropriates are worth about $1.6 million. This discretionary funding is currently delayed as part of the annual budget negotiations Congress continues to debate, with action now needed by March 23, 2018.
CommUnityCare, Lone Star Circle of Care and People’s Clinic are FQHCs operating in Travis County. Operating as nonprofits, FQHCs provide primary medical and wrap around health care services for patients, regardless of their ability to pay or whether they have insurance. FQHCs must follow specific rules including having patients on their boards to help oversee clinic operations. Nationally, 1 in 12 Americans get their health care from a community health center.
“If you want to see how community health centers improve lives, visit Central Health Southeast Health & Wellness Center,” said Mike Geeslin, President and CEO of Central Health. “We serve anyone who walks through our doors, and the model of care they receive is as good as any state-of-the-art facility you’ll find anywhere in the country. Last year, Central Health Southeast Health & Wellness Center provided over 42,000 medical visits and over 8,000 dental visits. From both a human and cost perspective, investing in community health centers should always be a top priority.”