GOP Cuts Eliminate $1.3 Billion From Community Health Centers They Once Considered ‘Essential’

Yesterday, in an effort to make good on their election promise to significantly reduce federal spending, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee released a preliminary plan of specific cuts that would result in a “9% reduction in nondefense, discretionary spending from 2010.” The proposal makes significant reductions to health care programs, including $1 billion from the national institutes of health, $327 million from Title X, and $210 million from Maternal and Child Health Block Grants.

Surprisingly, Republicans would also eliminate $1.3 billion from community health centers — which provide much needed care to rural and undeserved communities. The programs were expanded by former President George W. Bush (and Obama) and have previously been described as “essential” by Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY). In fact, his website is littered with press releases touting new federal funds for CHCs in his district:

— U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers (KY-05) announced today that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded $100,000 to Grace Community Health Center….””Grace Community Health Center serves those who are most in need and will use this funding to help improve the quality of life for those with little to no access to health care. This investment in Clay and Knox counties improves the well-being and health of the local community.” [State News Service, 9/17/2010]

— U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) announced today that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded Morehead State University (MSU) with a $235,620 Rural Health Care Grant…“This is great news for the people of Martin County,” said Rogers. “By providing new resources to focus on preventative health care, the community will now be better equipped to address the health care problems that have plagued our region for far too long.” [Press Release, 10/17/2009]

— U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers announced today that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded Health Help, Inc. with a $1,433,244 Rural Health Care Grant…”This Rural Health Care Grant program ensures medical care is available to seniors, children, and low-income families,” said Rogers. “In these challenging economic times, rural health care clinics are now more than ever an essential part of the health care safety net in our region and this investment in Jackson County will aid in continuing these important services.” [Press Release, 5/18/2009]

“If this cut were to be approved, it would mean that America’s health centers will lose the capacity to serve 11 million patients over the next year, with well over 3.3 million current patients losing their care within the next few months,” Tom Van Coverden, president and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers, said in a statement.“That is equivalent to terminating all healthcare to the entire population of Chicago, or to everyone living in the states of Wyoming, Vermont, North and South Dakota, and Alaska combined,” Van Coverden said.

Indeed, this kind of disinvestment could also translate to serious job losses on the local level. Economists estimated that the additional $2 billion investment in CHCs from the stimulus package generated $3.2 billion of economic activity in 2009, with health centers creating approximately $20 billion in economic activity for the communities where they are located.” Health centers directly employ people in their communities, including key entry-level jobs, training, and other community-based opportunities. The clinics also purchase goods and services from local businesses and expand and build new locations. That’s why members of both parties embrace these centers and will have a hard time in actually voting for their elimination.