Over the Cliff and Hanging on by a Dangling Root

Congress Must Act Soon to Alleviate the Impact of Delayed Health Care Funding

Statement attributable to
Polly Anderson
Vice President of Strategy and Financing
Colorado Community Health Network (CCHN)

DENVER― I am disappointed to report that we have gone over the federal primary care funding cliff. This, as you know, was the September 30, 2017, expiration date for federal funding for the Health Center Fund, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), Teaching Health Centers (THC), and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The funding for these programs is not included in the short-term continuing resolution passed by Congress.

This is not only about the viability of our Community Health Centers, the National Health Service Program, or CHP+, the CHIP program in Colorado: this is about the health and well-being of the patients, families, and communities these programs help serve.

We are seeing some signs that action may happen in October. The chairmen of both the funding and the authorizing Congressional committees have clearly stated their intention to move forward with “cliff fixes.” The House Energy & Commerce Committee has announced that a “mark-up” on these programs will be held this week, meaning they plan to vote on legislation in committee. There are many steps to climb before that bill becomes law.

We thank our members of Congress for all they have done to support these programs, this year and in the past, and urge them to actively do everything in their power to move the legislation forward as quickly as possible. Never has the uncertainty of funding been so high or the impacts if the cliff is not fixed so deep. The funding uncertainty is already having impact on the decisions that Community Health Centers must make about filling open job positions and signing contracts and leases, on patient uncertainty, on client enrollments, and on choices that health care providers must make about where to work depending on if they are able to secure service loan repaymentcontracts.

  • H.R. 3770, the Community Health Improvement, Modernization & Excellence (CHIME) Act of 2017, sponsored by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), has been cosponsored by Colorado Reps. DeGette, Polis, Buck, Lamborn, Coffman, and Perlmutter. This bill would extend the Health Center Fund, which for the past two years has provided 70 percent of the federal funding provided to Community Health Centers.
  • H.R.3862, sponsored by Reps. Butterfield and Stewart, would extend the National Health Service Corps. The NHSC is crucial to helping bring providers to areas that have shortages of health care providers and helping them pay off their medical education in exchange for years of service. Often, having experienced the value of Community Health Centers, they stay beyond their loan repayment commitment.
  • S. 1899, also called the CHIME Act, was introduced late last week by a bipartisan group of ten senators, including Colorado’s Sen. Gardner. The sponsors are Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Sen. Bennet is already committed to cosponsoring the bill. It would extend the Health Center Fund and the National Health Service Corp.
  • There are a number of bills about CHIP that have been introduced this year. The Energy & Commerce Committee announcement does not specify which one, if any of those already introduced, will be the bill they work on in this week’s mark-up.

For the immediate future, Community Health Centers can continue to draw the funds granted in their FY17 grants until the end of their grant period. We urge all CHC employees and patients to hold fast: we are working on it. We urge you to continue to join us in advocacy for these programs so important to the health of people across the state of Colorado and across the nation. Your voices are helping members of Congress understand the importance and urgency of these programs. Please watch www.hcadvocacy.org and our Facebook page (Colorado Community Health Network) for updates and additional steps you can take in support of Community Health Centers.

Colorado has some CHIP funding in reserve, and therefore Colorado’s Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) program has funding for a few months. Assisters should continue to enroll eligible children and pregnant women in the program. The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) estimates that Colorado’s not-yet-fully-spent federal allotment will last until late January 2018. HCPF added frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) on their Future of CHP+ page in light of the current uncertainty surrounding federal funding for CHIP. The page emphasizes that consumers do not lose their CHP+ coverage right away, they should continue to utilize their benefits, and eligible people can continue to enroll. The website is updated regularly. See the website: Future of CHP+

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To interview Ms. Anderson, please contact Maureen Maxwell at (303) 861-5165, Ext. 259, cell (303)913-9078, or maureen@cchn.org.

The Colorado Community Health Network (CCHN) is the unified voice for Colorado’s 20 Community Health Centers (CHCs) and their patients. CHCs provide a health care home for more than 700,000 of their community members – more than one in eight people in Colorado – from 61 of the state’s 64 counties. Without CHCs, hundreds of thousands of Colorado’s low-income families and individuals would have no regular source of health care. CCHN’s mission is to increase access to high quality health care for people in need in Colorado. For more information about CCHN, please visit www.cchn.org.