Clock Ticking Down On Federal Funding For Community Health Centers

Sep 14, 2017

Vermont has so far dodged most of the federal spending cuts that many state lawmakers had feared, but the state is potentially only weeks away from a  severe hit to a widely used health care program.

Last week, Congress inked a temporary budget deal that will keep federal spending at current levels until at least Dec. 8. A key piece of financing for Vermont’s federally qualified health centers, however, was not included of that budget reauthorization.

And if Congress doesn’t renew funding for what’s known as the Community Health Center Fund, patients here may feel the squeeze.

“According to Bi-State Primary Care [Association], which sort of is the umbrella organization for the Vermont FQHCs, it could lead to a reduction in nine sites closing in Vermont,” says Kathryn Becker Van Haste, director of health policy for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Becker delivered that news to members of the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee Thursday morning. Those nine sites represent nearly a fifth of all community health care centers in Vermont. Van Haste says one in four Vermonters use a federally qualified health center, more per capita than any other state.

Van Haste says Sanders’ office is trying to negotiate continued funding before the program expires on Sept. 30.

The Community Health Center Fund was created as part of the federal Affordable Care Act in 2010, and it allocates about $2 billion annually for federal qualified health centers across the country.

The centers serve patients of all income levels, but charge on a sliding scale based patients’ ability to pay.