SAN DIEGO–The new Congress in Washington D.C., which seems intent on decimating the healthcare budget to help allay the Federal deficit, has proposed $1.3 billion in cuts in healthcare funding. According to Gary Rotto, Council of Community Clinics (CCC) Director of Health Policy and Strategic Communications, community clinics have enjoyed bipartisan support from the local Congressional delegation, but this proposal is clearly partisan in nature. The consequences of such a cut, he emphasized, would devastate low income people in San Diego and the healthcare programs and institutions that support them.
“If enacted, this budget cut would kill clinic expansion just when we are seeing 20 percent more patients than the year before,” said Rotto. “This will eliminate hiring health care professionals – a significant source of employment in San Diego. The effect would chill any economic rebound in our region and severely damage the community clinics position as the region’s safety net for essential health care services.” Rotto noted that originally Congress had discussed rolling the healthcare budget back to the level of 2008, which would have amounted to a cut of about $125 million. “This is more than 10 times that amount,” he said.
As noted last month, the 16-member community clinics and health centers that operate more than 100 sites throughout San Diego, Imperial and Riverside Counties have experienced significant increases in patients seeking medical services. In 2008, the clinics saw 550,714 patients who generated 1,600,031 encounters. This increased in 2009 to 654,535 patients seen and 1,801,058 encounters. Particularly noticeable, said Rotto, is that the patients with private insurance dropped from 2008 to 2009 from 23,565 to 21,962. Statistics also showed a dramatic increase in the number of underinsured patients (228,906 in 2008 to 261,853 in 2009 and uninsured patients (162,692 in 2008 to 197,364 in 2009).
The Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee announced a partial list of spending cuts that would eliminate billions in healthcare funding in the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.
A package of reductions expected to exceed $74 billion will be included in the upcoming Continuing Resolution bill, according to Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). “The cuts in this CR will represent the largest reduction in discretionary spending in the history of our nation,” Rogers said in a statement.
The list includes a reduction of $1.3 billion to Community health centers. “If this cut were to be approved, it would mean that America’s health centers will lose the capacity to serve 11 million patients over the next year, with well over 3.3 million current patients losing their care within the next few months,” Tom Van Coverden, president and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers, said in a statement.
“That is equivalent to terminating all healthcare to the entire population of Chicago, or to everyone living in the states of Wyoming, Vermont, North and South Dakota, and Alaska combined,” Van Coverden said.
This is not a question of partisan politics,” said Rotto. “It goes to very heart of public safety and assuring that, in a civilized nation, people have access to basic healthcare.