DeLauro said millions of patients will be impacted if large cuts applied to health center funding
New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN — There was an air of desperation in the room as community health care center leaders spoke of their struggles now that 70 percent of their federal funds remain in limbo.

“Rosa, I am really scared. I am scared that the basic human rights of our patients will be stripped to the core by a significant reduction or complete elimination of these dollars,” Dr. Suzanne Lagarde, chief executive officer of Fair Haven Community Health, said Wednesday.

Lagarde was addressing U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, who held a roundtable discussion at the Fair Haven facility on the status of funding for the clinics as they wait for Congress to put a final budget in place.

The latest deadline is set for Feb. 8 after mulitple continuing resolutions so far have put off budget answers.

The main source of funding for the 17 community health centers in Connecticut that serve 375,000 residents is the federal 330 grant totaling $56.6 million, of which $36 million represents the 70 percent in jeopardy.

There was a vote in the House on funding for the Childrens Healthcare Insurance Program and the clinics, which didn’t pass. DeLauro said it was rejected because a large portion of the total funds needed nationwide for the programs were coming from the Prevention and Public Health Fund.

DeLauro said taking from one health fund to underwrite another is “madness when you are giving $1.5 trillion, with no offsets, to the millionaires and the largest corporations.”

She was referring to the corporate tax rate cut to 20 percent from 35 percent, which will reduce revenues by $1.5 trillion over a decade.

The prevention fund covers such things as Alzheimer’s disease outreach; diabetes programs; heart disease and stroke prevention programs; lead poisoning prevention; immunization grants; and youth suicide prevention, among others.

Vincent Petrini, senior vice president for public affairs at the Yale New Haven Health Services System, contacted after the discussion, said the health centers provide “an exceptional safety net” for low-income families and residents without insurance.

He said the emergency rooms in the state will be the first to feel the impact, beyond the health centers themselves, if they suffer more cuts.

Craig Glover, chief executive officer of the Norwalk Community Health Center, said if funding is decimated and the emergency rooms are flooded, “our fragile health care delivery system is going to break under the weight of that.”

“It is important to enlist allies,” DeLauro said, of bringing the hospitals into the discussion.

The most recent focus of a divided Congress has been a fight over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which effects some 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought here illegally as children, and separately, CHIP, with the plight of the health centers off the radar.

DeLauro said they have only three weeks to get the issue before the public and put pressure on Congress to understand the gravity of the situation.

To emphasize that, Legarde will be DeLauro’s guest at the State of Union address Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

It is a tradition for senators and House representatives and the administration to invite citizens to the address as a way of signifying the importance of a policy issue.

Since September, a number of the centers have not hired needed personnel because of the uncertainty around funding.

The leaders further predicted funding cuts will impact the school-based clinics as well as behavioral health programs, particularly because of the cuts already imposed by the state of Connecticut.

“It is a double whammy,” Deb Polun, senior director for policy and outreach at the Commumity Health Center Association of Connecticut, told the group.

“This is a catastrope,” Legarde said.

The 375,000 patients who are served by the Connecticut centers, represent more than 10 percent of the state’s population, one of the highest percentages in the country, Polun said.

“That shows health centers in Connecticut are reaching out to their communities, expanding their services, going into schools, going into homeless shelters, finding people where they are,” Polun said.

Without a fix to this issue, 90,000 could lose access to care, Polun predicted.

Across the country, 27 million patients are served by 1,400 community health centers. The 70 percent of funding in limbo for all the states equals $3.6 billion.

For the Connecticut health centers the amount in question is some $3 million for the Fair Haven Community Health Center; $2.4 million for the Southwest Community Health Center, Inc. in Bridgeport; $3.9 million for the Charter Oak Health Center in Hartford; $4.2 million for the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Corp. in New Haven; $1.8 million for the Norwalk Community Health Center; $1.3 million for the Connecticut Institute for Communities in Danbury; $3.8 million for Optimus Health Care Inc. in Bridgeport; $5.2 million for Community Health Center Inc. in Middletown; $1.3 million for the Community Health and Wellness Center of Greater Torrington.

DeLauro said if Congress permanently funded CHIP, it would pay for itself in six years, but Congress won’t do this.

The congresswoman said the Constitution empowers the Congress to appropriate funds.

“It is that process that has disintegrated,” she said. The continuing resolutions are no way to fund the government. “They can’t internally resolve the amount of money for defense and the amount of money for non-defense.”

If a large infusion is added to defense, the same amount should go to non-defense, according to the budget control act. “We want parity,” DeLauro said.

“If you are not going to pay for defense, then you are not going to pay for non-defense,” she said of budget offsets not applied to the military, but imposed on non-defense spending.

“These people are frantic,” DeLauro said, referring to the health care center leaders.

The congresswoman said the cuts are taking the country “down a dangerous path.” On the other hand, she said it is an issue that people readily understand and can be mobilized to fight.

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