U.S. Congress has reauthorized funding for six years for CHIP – a federal children’s health insurance safety net program – but not for the nation’s local health services many of them rely on. Missouri has about 88,000 kids on CHIP. Joe Pierle of the Missouri Primary Care Association tells Missourinet about $70 million that local health programs receive annually is at risk in Missouri because Congress failed to reauthorize funding by the September 30 deadline.
“There’s one thing about having coverage. There’s another about having access. We are that access point for people,” he says.
Pierle says the services currently exist in more than 50 of Missouri’s 114 counties. In many rural areas, community-based programs are the only health provider. They deliver medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmaceutical services, among others.
“I’m getting concerned that this lack of progress on our funding sends a chilling effect on all of that,” says Pierle. “We have to operate like businesses and we’re always planning for the future, how can we do more, how can we open up more sites, provide more services. Operating in an environment if you don’t know if that $70 million for Missouri is going to be there tomorrow, has presented a significant challenge.”
The association includes 29 community health centers and 200 locations that serve about 550,000 Missourians annually. Many of the patients cared for are low-income, uninsured and Medicaid or Medicare recipients. Pierle says the services provided save money in the long run.
“We’re providing preventative and primary care services upfront, keeping people healthier and keeping them out of more expensive forms of care, like emergency rooms,” says Pierle.
The largely bipartisan support for community-based health program funding could become a valuable bargaining chip to end a likely stalemate when lawmakers in Washington go back to the negotiating table next month to pass another temporary federal budget resolution.
During debate, Pierle hopes Congress will reauthorize a local health services funding plan that includes an increase. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, and co-sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri. Blunt, who serves as the Chairman of a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee for departments including Health and Human Services, is proposing a five-year plan with 4% annual funding increases for community health services.