We in Congress have a moral responsibility — as citizens and lawmakers — to ensure all among us have access to health care. When we achieve this, we will not only live longer and healthier lives, but it will cost us all less. Sadly, congressional Republicans are reducing access to care for those who need it most: the poor and children.
Community health centers serving many of America’s most vulnerable are funded in large part by the federal government. A fund created in 2010 provided $11 billion over five years to operate, expand and build such centers, and Congress extended it in 2015 for two more years.
That fund expired Sept. 30, leaving more than 1,400 health-center organizations across the nation facing 70 percent cutbacks. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — a federal-state program protecting 9 million children whose families are not well off but not quite poor enough for Medicaid — expired the same day.
Yet, instead of just reauthorizing these programs because it’s the right thing to do, House Republicans are intent on robbing Peter to pay Paul.
They’ve tried to tie funding for community health centers and CHIP to gutting the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides prevention grants to states and also makes up a big chunk of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget. That means abandoning our investments in emergency preparedness, and chronic and infectious disease prevention.
So the health of millions of children and low-income families is held for ransom by the GOP’s ongoing obsession with sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, a law that extended health care to more Americans than ever before.
Since Sept. 30, health centers have been burning through their reserves and states have been exhausting what’s left in their CHIP funds to keep people healthy. That’s all running out, and soon people seeking medical care will be turned away.
Many are our neighbors. The Bay Area’s community health centers are struggling to make staffing and operational decisions that affect hundreds of jobs and thousands of lives.
Without action from Congress, at least 30,500 people in the East Bay could lose access to health care, according to the Alameda Health Consortium and the Community Clinic Consortium. And Community Health Partnership’s member clinics are striving to preserve care for more than 20,000 patients in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
“We know that we can’t keep providing the same level of services to the same number of patients without this funding,” says Jane Garcia, CEO of La Clínica de La Raza.
Tiburcio Vásquez Health Center CEO David Vliet says he and his board are planning for “a drastic funding reduction that will translate into shrinking services, patients having to go to emergency rooms and restricted access.” He said, “We are facing a serious blow with consequences for community prosperity and public health.”
In my 15th Congressional District, CHIP covers an estimated 20,300 children. Imagine packing every seat at Oracle Arena with kids, floor to ceiling – and then denying health care to all of them.
Now imagine 10 Oracle Arenas full of kids — that’s about how many kids elsewhere in the Bay Area rely on CHIP.
Meanwhile, Republicans are about to vote on a tax plan that clearly benefits the rich and corporations over working and middle-class Americans — stealing from our kids to benefit CEOs.
We all went to Washington to do what’s right for our fellow Americans. We all bemoan the gridlock on Capitol Hill. This is a moment when we can work together to make people’s lives a little healthier and better.
We must reauthorize the Community Health Center Fund and CHIP with no partisan strings attached. It’s what our children and families deserve. When we care about whether our neighbor, the family across the street or the people around the block whom we might never meet all have health care, we all end up healthier and paying less.
Eric Swalwell, D-Castro Valley, represents the East Bay’s 15th Congressional District.
Article: The Mercury News