The waiting room of Montana’s Community Health Centers are thousands of miles from the U.S. Capitol, but what happens under that dome is hurting the health of thousands of Montanans.
Right now, Montana Community Health Centers are experiencing a federal funding cut of 70 percent that took effect October 1. Centers across the state are making hard choices to trim costs, save jobs, and keep doors open. Our health centers are not alone. The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has projected that the impact of the funding cliff will result in the closure of 2,800 health center locations, elimination of more than 50,000 jobs, and a loss of access to care for more than 9 million patients. The disruption is already evident. Many health centers in Montana are already making the tough choices about cutting costs amid a massive funding shortfall – implementing hiring freezes, cutting back on programs and deciding whether to close rural sites. In rural areas, where people typically drive miles in any direction to a provider, site closures will pose a significant hardship.
Why should this matter? Because we save lives. In Montana, 17 community health centers in 48 locations are part of a nationwide network that started more than 50 years ago to provide quality primary care in places where doctors and services were scarce or non-existent. We are the family doctor to more than 106,000 Montanans in communities all across the state, almost 1 in 10 Montanans receive their healthcare in one of our health centers. We provide affordable access to primary care and help reduce the incidence of chronic disease in the most economically challenged rural and urban communities all over Montana. Our patients have a more affordable option for preventive care than a hospital emergency room, a fact which allows us to generate millions in health care cost savings in Montana. We are also innovators, working with community partners to respond to public health crises, such as the opioid epidemic and the recent wildfires that raged this summer in Lincoln and Seeley Lake.
There is little doubt that health centers have contributed significantly to cost savings for the American taxpayer. Not only do most Republicans and Democrats support our program, they also want a funding cliff fix. So why can’t Congress get the job done? We are up against a host of factors that include a ticking clock and a busy legislative calendar that is focused on dollars, not doctors or the people who need them.
Congress must act now and turn their attention to fix the community health center funding cliff. Let’s hope they act before it’s too late.
CEO, Montana Primary Care Association
MPCA is the association of Montana’s community health centers, and works to support and increase Montanans’ access to excellent, patient-centered health care. The Mission of the Montana Primary Care Association is to promote integrated primary healthcare to achieve health and well-being for Montana’s most vulnerable populations.