Some sobering news from the U.S. Census: the number of people without health insurance is growing for the first time in 10 years. The number jumped to 27.5 million, up from 25.6 million in 2017 — or 7.9 percent in 2017 to 8.5 percent in 2018. It was also the first year-to-year increase in uninsured rates since 2008 and 2009.
The new numbers were released last week as more than 200 Community Health Center advocates flew in from around the country to visit with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They were doctors, patients, nurses, board members and CEOs, all pressing for Congress to act and provide long-term and secure funding for health centers. Their timing could not be more critical. Every health center in America stands to lose more than 70 percent of their federal grant funding by September 30th unless a bill is passed. A funding cut of such magnitude will have far reaching and broad implications for the 29 million people — 23 percent of whom are uninsured — who now depend on health centers for their care.
People need both insurance coverage and a place to go to stay healthy. If the U.S. Census numbers are an indicator that insurance will be even harder to attain in the future, investing in more affordable primary care options where patients do not need an insurance card is critical. Unfortunately, if the mandatory funding for health centers expires on September 30th, we’ll reverse progress on that front. A new analysis issued this week from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy at The George Washington University notes that a small number of health centers have already taken steps in response to the prospect of uncertain funding, and a much larger number are considering such steps, such as adopting a hiring freeze or staff lay-offs, consolidating sites or reducing services.
As Lathran Johnson Woodard, NACHC Board Chair and CEO of the South Carolina Primary Health Care Association, noted in a NACHC press release issued earlier this week: “These community owned health centers deliver value to taxpayers, save lives and reduce health costs. We need stable and long-term funding because health care for millions of people cannot run on financial uncertainty.”