COLUMBUS, Ohio - Community health centers in Ohio and other states have faced a federal funding cliff in the past, and there are new efforts to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
Charleta Tavares, chief executive of PrimaryOne Health in Columbus, said community health centers are the health-care home for some 740,000 Ohioans, providing an array of affordable medical, dental and behavioral health services. She said access to routine health-care visits can keep families healthy and financially stable.
"When their health is maintained and improved upon," she said, "the children are going to be more ready to learn and the adults in the family are going to be ready to earn so that they can take care of their family."
Community health centers temporarily lost federal funding in 2017, and funding will expire again on Sept. 30 if Congress doesn't act. Tavares is among the advocates from around the country who are meeting with lawmakers in Washington this week about the need for long-term and stable funding for health centers. Two bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate to extend federal funding for community health centers for five years.
Community health centers are required to provide care to all patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. Tavares noted that fewer than one in five people served by Ohio's 55 centers have private insurance.
"Health care is a major cost, and it's a major reason for individuals going homeless because they can't afford either a medical bill or a hospital bill, and in many cases they have to make a decision whether they are going to pay their rent or not," she said. "It's a heavy burden if they don't have insurance coverage."
Tavares said community health centers also are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic and other public-health emergencies.
"Whether it's a flood, tornado, a public-health communicable disease, we are called upon by our governments, our public health organizations to assist in whatever those disasters might be," she said, "including the recently announced White House initiative to end HIV and AIDS."
The Senate bills are S. 106 and S. 192.