Earlier this week, the Geiger Gibson/ RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative released a policy research brief that estimates the impact of the House of Representatives’ proposed reduction in funding to community health centers. (Full disclosure: the Geiger Gibson program is part of the George Washington University’s School of Public Health & Health Services, where I work, and I’ve taken classes taught by Sara Rosenbaum, one of the authors of the brief.) I’m sure most readers won’t be surprised to learn that cuts to community health center funding won’t really save money – like cuts to poison control centers, they’ll lead to higher costs down the road.
The House proposal for the remainder of FY 2011 includes a reduction of $1.3 billion in health center funding, down from the $2.48 billion in President Obama’s budget. While this cut wasn’t in the Senate’s proposal, I’m sure it’s still on the table in ongoing FY 2011 budget negotiations, and it may be just a prelude to larger proposed cuts for FY 2012.
The brief’s authors, Peter Shin and Sara Rosenbaum, calculate that the proposed funding reduction would eliminate access to healthcare for between 10 and 12 million patients. CHCs provide affordable access to high-quality primary and preventive care in locations that are underserved by other healthcare providers. Because their fees are based on patients’ ability to pay, they fill a crucial need for those who are unemployed, uninsured, or otherwise unable to afford healthcare in other settings – a population that has grown during the economic downturn.
CHCs’ contributions to the health of the communities they serve include comprehensive prenatal care and management of chronic conditions, among many other services. Because such services can avert negative health outcomes like low birthweight and health crises that necessitate emergency-room visits, CHCs achieve healthcare savings. Shin and Rosenbaum estimate that reducing FY 2011 CHC funding by $1.3 billion would translate to losing approximately $15 billion in cost savings. Or, every dollar of funding reductions means a loss of $11.50 in potential savings.
I really don’t want to think that the majority of the House of Representatives is lacking in basic math skills or is comfortable with 10 to 12 million people going without important healthcare services. But I can’t understand how anyone would think this kind of cut is a good idea.