By Kaitlin McColgan
Today, the President released his FY2011 Budget. After all the talk of the discretionary spending freeze, health center advocates like many others were understandably wondering (and nervous about) what the budget would hold.
The budget contained a significant increase for the Health Centers program: $290 million. Even more, though, it demonstrated an advanced understanding of the situation on the ground for health centers and medically underserved communities. For years, through our ACCESS for All America plan, NACHC and health centers have urged that increases to the Health Centers program preserve, strengthen and expand, and this budget does just that.
For starters, the budget appears to propose making the Increased Demand for Services or “IDS” funding to every health center in the country permanent. Making this funding permanent would essentially provide a $175 million base grant adjustment. This, combined with making the ARRA New Access Points permanent (at a cost of around $78 million), would provide funding for continued care to almost 3 million patients.
In addition, the budget calls for $40 million in growth funding above that, meaning possible service expansions, expanded medical capacity, and New Access Points (NAPs) for areas without a health center. We would have liked, of course, to see that growth funding significantly higher. As many know, there has not been an opportunity to apply to become a health center since 2007, and there is huge pent-up demand across the country for these grants. Our service and expanded medical capacity grants have also been incredibly competitive, with demand far, far outstripping need. This is one reason why NACHC’s requested increase may exceed even the President’s request.
However, on a day when so many programs are facing flat funding or minimal increases, health centers are at least in a better position than most heading into the long appropriations season. And, while this is without a doubt a positive first step in the process, there’s a long road ahead. In a year like this, we’ll need plenty of advocacy from the grassroots in the coming months to make this funding increase a reality.
Finally, if you are wondering how this funding interacts with the trust fund spending proposed in health reform, stay tuned for a future blog post on that very subject!