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Troubles in Congress could impact health care access for Coloradans

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Eric Galatas

Colorado's community health centers that serve all patients regardless of their ability to pay are already one month into their new fiscal year. But Congress has yet to approve their annual funding.

Stephanie Einfeld, CEO of Northwest Colorado Health, which serves rural residents at sites in Craig and Steamboat Springs, said the high quality of medical, behavioral, dental and other care provided by health centers is at risk. They need federal dollars in order to avoid reduced hours of operation and waitlists for care.

"To continue to do what we do, we need federal support," she stressed. "Our legislators need to hear that. And they need to prioritize, first, to continue our federal funding, and then to increase our federal funding." 

Unlike most other businesses facing rising labor and other costs, she said federally qualified health centers cannot pass those expenses along to patients. Health centers disproportionately serve Medicaid patients, and are especially vulnerable to rising uncompensated care costs after continuous coverage ended earlier this year, a move projected to leave 325,000 Coloradans without insurance.

Health centers have multiple sources of revenues, including patient billing and grants. 

Dr. Simon Hambidge, chief ambulatory officer with Denver Health, said federal funding is significant, and health centers have had strong bipartisan support for more than 60 years. Frequently, the largest employers in the communities they serve, health centers directly employ more than 6,000 people in Colorado, and create a total of over 11,000 indirect jobs.

"The total economic impact of health-center operations in Colorado is calculated to be over $1.7 billion. And the tax revenues that are generated by health centers in their communities is over $1.2 billion," Hambidge said. 

Community health centers also do what seems beyond the reach of virtually all other aspects of the nation's healthcare system: save taxpayers money. Last year, it's estimated that health centers in Colorado saved the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services more than $15 million serving nearly 14,000 patients.

"There is a documented return on investment from health centers. Health centers save Medicaid 24 percent of total costs for every Medicaid patient that is seen," Hambidge continued.