Budget Sequester will Hurt Health Center Patients and Communities
The budget sequester scheduled to take effect on March 1 could result in an estimated 900,000 Community Health Center patients losing care and force some health center sites to slash services or possibly close their doors. With the sequester deadline just days away, health center advocates from around the country are urging Members of Congress to delay or replace the sequester as soon as possible. If Congress does not act, health centers face a potential loss of $120 million in funding at a time when the need for affordable health care services far exceeds the supply.
“The impact of such an arbitrary cut will carry a ripple effect,” said Gary Wiltz, MD, a doctor at the Teche Action Center health center in rural Franklin, LA, and the Board Chair Elect of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). “People could lose access to basic health care services and many of them cannot afford to go anyplace else. Every community that a health center serves will be adversely affected in some way. Current patients, many of whom have chronic conditions and need on-going medical care, may lose access to the low-cost primary care they know, or low-income families who have been waiting for a health center to open its doors in their community might have to wait even longer, or they will just continue to go to the local emergency room for care. This is penny-wise and pound foolish.”
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calculates that sequestration will require an annual reduction of roughly 5 percent for nondefense programs. However, because these cuts must be achieved over seven months instead of the usual 12 months, the effective percentage reductions will equal almost 9 percent for programs such as health centers. The health center funding reduction comes as the program is attempting to expand its reach to care for the millions of Americans anticipated to gain access to insurance coverage under Medicaid and the insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.