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Report Reveals Sequester's Impact on Community Health Centers and Underserved Populations

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According to a recent analysis, community health centers and residents of medically underserved areas will be hard hit by federal budget cuts through sequestration.

The report released Monday as part of a collaborative study between the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy, part of the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University, and the RCHN Community Health Foundation, reveals that due to federal budget cuts through sequestration, the nation’s 1,200 community health programs will lose $120 million in funding.

The loss come from two main areas – a 5.1 percent cut will be made to federal grant programs that support community health centers, and cuts will also be made to the federal Health Center Fund. The Health Center fund was created in the Affordable Care Act to improve access to primary health care.

Feygele Jacobs, Executive Vice President at the RCHN Community Health Foundation, said that the cuts will have their deepest impact on community health centers in rural areas and that deal with many patients who have limited transportation or low income...

“Health centers typically tried to have expanded hours and expanded services that really meet the needs of their population but they are less likely to be able to do that effectively with these kinds of cuts, and I think that this is really going to effect the most disenfranchised communities.”

Jacobs said that younger families or older patients in rural areas could find it more difficult to find readily available treatment.

But Dr. Peter Shin, an author of the report, and research director at George Washington University, said that the cuts will do more than cause accessibility problems…

“Obvsiously health centers are at risk of having to reduce access or capactit but at the same time when there are cuts to other programs what you’re going to see is probably greater increases in emergency care use and readmissions and this sort of might become an economic snowball effect.”

A snowball effect that burdens other areas of the health care system.

As a result of the sequester, the analysis reports that community health centers across the country may see 3 million fewer patients than expected in 2013,  they may lose $230 million in third party revenues, and a significant loss of clinical personnel. The report says that a $120 million cut means 450 physicians, 300 dentists, 900 nurses and aides, or 90 mental health providers.

Bryan Ayars, CEO of Community Health Programs, which operates in the Berkshire County communities of Lee, Great Barrington and Pittsfield, says that the cuts come at a time where health centers are already working to comply with a changing regulatory environment at both the state and federal level…

“…and in the midst of that our safety net is being pulled out from under us with the expectations that we continue to provide services at the same level to the same number of people and more…”

Ayars said Community Health Programs may lose $100,000 a year of the $1.8 million it receives in federal health support.

And Feygele Jacobs noted that even if the funding were restored, because the cuts are coming mid-year, health centers making adjustments to staffing and hours today, may lose ground in the long term…

“…and it takes a long time to restore that, so even if funding were to be restored, that means that over the longer term it’s much harder to put back in place what we have today.”

To see the full report click here.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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