COVID-19 Pushes Health Centers to the Brink
OCTOBER 2, 2020 UPDATE: A continuing resolution (CR) has extended funding only through December 11, 2020. This will only provide community health centers with an extra two weeks of funding before our Congressional appropriations and the Community Health Center Fund both expire. The Senate has not yet approved a new COVID-19 stimulus package, though on October 2, the House of Representatives passed the HEALS Act relief bill that includes $7.6 billion for health centers. We must continue to fight for stable community health center funding that will meet our COVID-19 emergency needs and our long-term operational and patient care needs.
Community health center-specific provisions in the CARES Act:
- Reauthorizes the Community Health Center Fund at current levels only through November 30, 2020.
- Reauthorizes the National Health Service Corps/Teaching Health Centers programs only through November 30, 2020.
- $1.32 billion in emergency funding that allows community health centers to prepare and respond to COVID-19, though not to specifically address staffing needs.
- Allows CHCs to bill Medicare for telehealth visits as a distant site; however, the stimulus prevents health centers from billing at our standard Medicare rates, further limiting our funding options.
Health care provisions open to community health centers in the CARES Act:
- The Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund — $100 billion to offset the costs of COVID-19 response and make up for lost revenues.
- Low-interest loans for small businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
Community health centers remain committed to seeking long-term, stable funding from Congress that will allow us to strategically plan for general operations, to invest in healthcare workforce capacity, and to prepare for the next emergency:
- 5-year reauthorization of the CHC Fund and the National Health Service Corps ($47.57 billion), as well as the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program ($632.5 million);
- $3.4 billion to meet the needs for coronavirus response and emergency preparedness immediately plus $5 billion over 5 years for future emergencies ($8.4 billion total); and,
- An immediate legislative fix to allow health centers to be included as an “eligible provider” and gain the ability to bill as “distant sites” through Medicare.
Community Health Center Funding Overview
Community health centers receive funding in multiple ways — reimbursement for patient visits, for example, comes from Medicaid, Medicare and private health insurance. In addition to these revenue streams, community health centers receive significant funding from the federal government.
Federal grant funding provides support to health centers to serve under-insured and uninsured patients who may otherwise forego care. However, this grant funding expired on September 30, 2019 and has only been partially renewed by Congress.