In the News

With budget deadlines looming, leaders of local community clinics are in Washington, D.C., this week to ask the region’s congressional delegation to help preserve funding for a program that provides care for low-income residents.

The lobbying effort is part of a nationwide push marshaled by the National Association of Community Health Centers. The organization said 7 million Americans could lose access to cost-effective care and 40,000 health workers could lose their jobs if Congress does not renew the Health Centers Fund, a five-year appropriation that was created in 2010 by the Affordable Care Act.

If the legislation is allowed to sunset this year, the program’s overall funding would drop by 70 percent — from about $5 billion today to $1.5 billion, according to an analysis by the association.

Gary Rotto, director of health policy and strategic communications for the Council of Community Clinics, which represents 16 health centers in San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties, said the cuts would mean about $25 million less for the organizations he represents.

The reductions would come as federal health reform has added more than 2 million people to the state’s Medi-Cal rolls. Money from the Health Centers Fund has been essential in boosting clinics’ staff to treat those newly insured residents, Rotto said.

“If Congress does not act, it could be hours cut back, new facilities that are delayed or do not open, much longer waits for appointments or delays in care until medical problems are urgent,” he added.

Although Congress has until the fall to approve a budget, Rotto said community clinics generally operate on a July through June fiscal year. Many of them are making decisions now about next year’s budgets and do not want to take the financial risk inherent in assuming the fund will be renewed.

“Being able to budget and enter into those agreements before the beginning of the next fiscal year is essential, or we will lose the recruiting battles and lose even more doctors who are already on our staffs,” Rotto said, referencing the struggle to compete with better-paying private medical groups.

Members of San Diego County’s congressional delegation seemed open to the clinics’ message Wednesday.

Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, said in a statement that she supports renewing the Health Centers Fund.

“Since San Diego doesn’t have a county hospital, clinics provide a disproportionate share of treatment for low-income patients compared with other parts of the country. This should be a top priority for Congress,” Davis said.

Joe Kasper, chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, said his boss is “definitely looking closer at the request.”

And Michael Campbell, press secretary for Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said health centers have always received the congressman’s support “given the critical role they play in keeping children and families healthy across San Diego and the country.”