Thousands of Utahns will lose access to nearby medical care if Congress doesn’t soon approve funding for a program that supports community health care centers throughout the country. The program that serves many rural areas has been caught up in the congressional shuffle over the future of the Affordable Care Act, and it’s important now that lawmakers restore its funding regardless of whatever other action they may take — or not take — on the future of Obamacare.
The back-and-forth on how to proceed in the structuring of the nation’s health care systems has left two important programs in limbo. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, along with the Community Health Centers Fund, will lose funding by the end of the year if Congress fails to act. The community clinic fund was created when the ACA was first passed into law, and was reauthorized for two years in 2015. In Utah, should funding run out, health officials say it will impact more than 70,000 patients. The director of a community center in sparsely populated Wayne County told the Deseret News there is a chance the center will lose staff and possibly have to shut down. Altogether, more than 30 of the state’s 54 community health centers may have to close their doors. Separately, about 20,000 children are enrolled in the CHIP program in Utah, which remains funded only through the end of the year.
Members of Utah’s congressional delegation say they are addressing the situation, though community clinic managers worry about a lack of apparent urgency. Utah Rep. Chris Stewart has sponsored a bill to restore funding to the community care center program, while another measure would refund that program along with CHIP. Both efforts are tied to the larger issue of the future of the ACA, over which lawmakers continue to parry and thrust. It’s a pity that such important health care programs are hostage to partisan wrangling.
The community care fund disburses $3.6 billion a year to subsidize operations for clinics in 10,000 locations. Many rural communities, with small population bases, are unable on their own to muster the economic clout to sustain necessary medical facilities, forcing people to travel long distances for even routine care, which many would choose to forego. Regardless of one’s stance on the appropriate role of government in the nation’s health care marketplace, it’s important that Congress act soon and decisively to put these programs on sound financial footing.