Amid severe disruption to our nation’s healthcare system – acute workforce challenges, rural healthcare facility closures, and poor health disparities among under-resourced communities, to name a few – community health centers in Iowa and across the nation are also facing challenges that could make it impossible for them to continue providing quality, affordable care to the patients who rely on them.
The Community Health Center Program is the country’s largest network of primary care providers. It is a vital part of our healthcare safety net, as health centers provide care to all who need it, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. Over 14,000 community health centers across the U.S. now serve over 30.5 million patients, or nearly 250,000 Iowans, the highest number of patients health centers serve.
This national network of community health centers, which relies primarily on federal funding, is more vital now than ever, particularly as the nation grapples with overlapping health and economic crises that disproportionately impact the under-resourced communities health centers care for and support. In Iowa, nearly 90% of health center patients live at or below 200% of the federal poverty line, Medicaid covers 52%, and 17% are uninsured.
As Congress continues to debate government funding, health centers are facing extraordinary workforce, infrastructure, and financial challenges. Their funding has not kept up with inflation and increasing patient populations. From Fiscal Year 2015 to Fiscal Year 2021, total community health center funding only increased by 11%, while the number of patients served increased by 24%. The healthcare workforce shortage makes recruiting and retaining staff health difficult, and behavioral health, substance abuse, and maternal mortality crises are straining health centers even further. Health centers cannot continue to do more with less.
Health centers need significant and sustained funding to keep serving their patients. Federal funding for the Community Health Center Trust Fund, initially set to expire on September 30, has been extended until November 17, but this is simply a stopgap measure. Now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to work together to ensure increased and stable funding through the Community Health Center Trust Fund.
This investment is crucial for health centers like All Care Health Center in Council Bluffs to keep their doors open, provide comprehensive care, retain and build their workforce, and participate in innovative efforts that improve the quality of patient care. Health centers like All Care Health Center provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care and are at the frontlines during a local, state, or national emergency.
Health centers are the best investment you can make in health care. In 2021, estimates showed that community health centers saved $25.3 billion in the Medicaid and Medicare programs while providing economic growth to localities. Every dollar of federal funding invested in community health centers generates $11 in total economic activity through increased spending on related health service expenses, food services, transportation, construction, and more.
Right here in Council Bluffs, your community health center employs 81 and is the healthcare home to nearly 6,000 patients throughout southwest Iowa and the metro. All Care Health Center provides primary healthcare, mental healthcare, and dental care through two community health centers. Homeless men, women, and children receive healthcare services through direct partnerships with New Visions Homeless Services and MICAH House. For our local patients without transportation, All Care has provided over 700 rides to and from appointments just this year. Mobile healthcare programs for our community school students and large community employers are developing. All Care strives to create access to healthcare for everyone.
The uncertainty around federal funding for health centers is unsustainable and hinders our ability to address the unique needs of our patients. I am calling today on Congress to provide robust health center funding through the Community Health Center Trust Fund Reauthorization to help our local communities thrive now and into the future. As the CEO of All Care Health Center, I speak on behalf of my colleagues throughout the metro and the state of Iowa, with hopes that Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Joni Ernst, and Representative Randy Feenstra will show their support for a strong reauthorization of the Community Health Center Trust Fund. The time for bold action is now.
– Joel Dougherty, All Care Health Center, Chief Executive Officer