COVID-19 Pushes Health Centers to the Brink

MARCH 26, 2020 UPDATE: Community health centers have been on the front lines addressing the COVID-19 public health crisis. The lack of critical emergency and long-term funding makes an already perilous situation even worse. The massive $2.2 trillion stimulus package Congress is set to pass provides only limited help to health centers. While we receive emergency, COVID-19-related assistance, full health center and related healthcare workforce program funding is only renewed through November 30, 2020. This is, at best, another “continuing resolution” that forces community health centers to keep fighting for long-term, stable funding in the midst of a public health emergency.

Community Health Center-Specific Provisions in the Stimulus

  • 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

  • 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.

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