Community health centers face critical funding deadline

September 23, 2023 3:00 am

As the congressional stalemate around funding the federal government continues, Nebraska’s community health centers are caught in the crosshairs. Without a solution to avoid a government shutdown, health centers are poised to lose critical funding at the end of this month.

Nebraska’s seven community health centers serve as the primary medical home to over 116,000 Nebraskans annually. Open to anyone, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, health centers are a one-stop shop, providing medical, dental and behavioral health services, as well as support services like transportation and translation assistance, all under one roof. Simply put, community health centers are the backbone of Nebraska’s health care system.

Health centers have long received strong bipartisan support from Congress, including members of Nebraska’s federal delegation. Extending, and even expanding, health center funding is not controversial, which makes this congressional deadlock all the more maddening. The current health center funding expires on Sept. 30 and, without congressional action, Nebraska health centers will lose nearly $17 million in funding — funding that supports the care and treatment of Nebraska’s most vulnerable citizens.

At a time when health centers are facing rising costs in patient care, workforce and operations, the potential of such a significant loss of funding would be devastating. While health centers have cash reserves to maintain services in the short term, any prolonged shutdown would force health centers into a precarious financial position.

Since 2015, Nebraska’s health centers have experienced a 50% increase in our patient population — growing from 76,000 to over 116,000 in 2022. From Omaha to Gering, health centers are often the only source of care for individuals who are uninsured or underinsured. In rural communities, in particular, patients will drive as far as 200 miles one direction in order to access services.

In recent years we have seen an alarming increase in demand for behavioral health services. Last year, nearly one in four health center patient visits included some sort of mental health or substance use diagnosis. Because we offer fully integrated services, a patient who comes in for a medical or dental appointment and is demonstrating the need for behavioral health services can be seen that same day by a therapist without having to leave the exam area.

Failing to pass funding bills that keep our federal government functioning isn’t just rhetoric — it puts the health and well-being of thousands of Nebraskans at risk. Congress should rally the long-standing bipartisan support of health centers to move this critical funding forward.

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Amy Behnke
Amy Behnke

Amy Behnke is the chief executive officer of the Health Center Association of Nebraska. Prior to joining HCAN, Amy practiced law at a firm in Omaha, following her service as legal counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the Nebraska Legislature. She also served as chief lobbyist for Voices for Children in Nebraska and is a former Legal Aid attorney. Amy serves on several statewide boards and committees and currently serves as the chair of the NACHC PCA Leadership Committee and chair of NACHC’s Bylaws Committee. Amy received a law degree from the University of Houston Law Center and a bachelor's degree in political science from Nebraska Wesleyan University.