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Reduction in Health Center Funds Could Hamper Care for Millions

Wednesday March 16, 2011
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A new policy research brief evaluates the consequences for access and cost savings of the proposed reductions in federal health center funding.

The brief estimates that the $1.3 billion reduction in fiscal year 2011 health center funding approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 20 would translate into a loss of approximately $15 billion in cost savings. Although the spending bill was subsequently rejected by the Senate, final measures for health centers have not been determined.

Each dollar withdrawn from health center funding equates to a loss of $11.50 in potential savings, according to research by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

Because of their location and emphasis on comprehensive, patient-centered healthcare, community health centers have had a positive impact on outcomes while also reducing costs. Without access to health center services, millions of patients with ongoing health needs are likely to forgo or delay care, and ultimately seek care in more costly settings.

“Federal investments in health centers strengthen and expand primary care capacity,” said Peter Shin, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and co-author of the study. “Reducing health center funding not only jeopardizes their ability to expand access to quality care for vulnerable populations, but also reduces their positive impact on racial and ethnic health disparities, birth outcomes, local economies, and federal and state health care costs.”

The analysis builds on prior impact analyses of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which substantially expanded the reach of health centers in medically underserved communities. The researchers conclude that the proposed funding cuts would significantly reduce health center capacity, eliminating access for between 10 million and 12 million patients.

The analysis shows further that the withdrawal of ARRA funds can be expected to lead to immediate service reductions and closures, restricting access for over 3 million patients over the next few months. Additionally, amid concerns over continuing threats to funding, health centers are likely to reconsider planned expansion efforts, leaving them unable to meet increasing demand for care.

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