Community Health Clinics Make Contingency Budget Plans

With Congressional Focus On Tax Plan, Clinic Funding Hasn't Been Reauthorized 2 Months After Deadline

Hallway at a children's hospital
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

Health clinics in Wisconsin that are required to help patients regardless of what they can pay are worried about their bottom line. Community health centers have been waiting two months for Congress to reauthorize federal funding.

As community health centers wait for Congress to act, they are making adjustments in case they don’t get the $29 million in annual federal grant money they need by the end of December.

“So health centers have started to make contingency plans. Some have instituted hiring freezes, others have put plans to expand critical services on hold,” said Lisa Olson, director of policy and programs for the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. The WPHCA includes 18 community health centers in medically underserved areas of Wisconsin.

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Each community health center has their own budget, and so their reliance on federal funding varies depending on the number of uninsured patients they see. It can vary anywhere from 10-40 percent of a clinic’s overall budget, Olson said.

“We’re hopeful there’s a lot of agreement in Congress for the health center program; it’s just they haven’t been able to get it done. They’ve been focused on tax reform while other critical priorities have been put on hold,” said Olson.

Health advocates are also worried about federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. State health officials said last month the program will continue even if federal funds end.

The program insures children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance.

CHIP funded coverage for more than 171,000 children in Wisconsin during fiscal year 2016 through the BadgerCare Plus program, according to Medicaid statistics.

A House version of a bill includes both funding for CHIP and community health centers. It’s stalled in the U.S. Senate due to the focus on the tax plan.