Congress, please approve health center funding
Mountain Family Health Centers
Recent polls show Americans view health care as a top priority. Yet a recent study confirms that although the U.S. possesses one of the most sophisticated and expensive health care systems in the world, many states are losing ground on key measures related to life expectancy. At this moment, Congress faces a decision to continue funding an important source of health care for tens of millions of people across the country.
In Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle, and Rio Blanco counties it is difficult for low- and middle-income families to access affordable medical, dental and behavioral health care. Medicaid providers are in short supply, affordable health insurance is limited, and paying out of pocket is often far too expensive. Access to primary health care is crucial to individual wellness and the economic vitality of our communities. Too often, health conditions that could have been prevented are left unaddressed. And when patients delay getting care, they often get sicker and need more expensive tests and treatment.
Community health centers were birthed more than 50 years ago because of the growing recognition that putting health care providers in low-income communities was a powerful weapon against poverty and ill-health. Today, these health centers provide primary care to more than 29 million people nationwide and more than 830,000 patients in Colorado. Twenty-one Colorado Community Health Centers operate 208 care sites, one-third of them in rural communities.
As one of these community health centers, Mountain Family provides affordable medical, dental and behavioral care to more than 21,000 patients in Western Colorado. We offer care at eight locations and are dedicated to providing community members with high-quality care, regardless of ability to pay. To better meet this mission, we’ve steadily expanded our locations and services to thousands of patients.
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Access to primary care is a pivotal driver that determines how long we live, just like access to clean water, jobs, nutrition and safe housing. U.S. counties with enough primary care providers have lower mortality rates, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine. Indeed, the same study notes that every 10 additional primary care providers per 100,000 people was linked to a 51.5-day increase in life expectancy.
The work that community health centers do to extend and improve lives generates cost savings across the health care system, but the return on investment depends on long-term support. Congress needs to commit to secure sustainable health center funding for the people and communities they represent. We deeply appreciate the bipartisan work of our representatives and senators in Congress who support long-term funding for community health centers. The work of health centers to ensure access to preventive health care and bridge the life expectancy gap must continue.
Several bipartisan bills have been introduced in Congress that will provide essential, long-term and stable funding for health centers, as well as for programs that build the primary care workforce we need for the future. I am hopeful Rep. Scott Tipton, Sen. Cory Gardner, and Sen. Michael Bennet will do the right thing and join in the effort to pass legislation supporting long-term funding for community health centers. The health of our community depends on it.
Ross Brooks is CEO of Mountain Family Health Centers.
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