The Health Programs Congress Left to Expire


Congress passed a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program earlier this week, but hasn't acted on several other public health programs for the poor. Lawmakers are risking allowing a host of essential health programs to expire, industry groups warn.

The federal community health centers program; National Health Service Corps, which supports primary care providers in underserved communities through scholarships and loan repayments; Puerto Rico's Medicaid program; and a program that provides funding for the National Institutes of Health to support research on Type 1 diabetes all have run out of funds or are close to running out of funds. Health industry groups were pushing lawmakers to attach funding extensions for these programs to the latest federal spending bill.

Democrats called the latest spending bill a “historic missed opportunity” and said Republicans should have added extensions for these programs and additional funds for opioid programs, as well as delayed cuts to safety-net hospitals.

The Health Resources and Services Administration's Health Center Program provides grants to community health centers that offer care to underserved and vulnerable populations. The program's funding expired in October, when CHIP's funding expired.

Community health centers provide care for roughly 27 million people, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.

If Congress doesn't act soon, some of the 2,500 federally supported health clinics could close, Amy Simmons, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Community Health Centers, told Bloomberg Law.

Previous CHIP extensions would have provided $880 million in Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico and increased the growth rate in the capped Medicaid payments for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by 1 percentage point for fiscal 2018 and 2019.

This money is needed to ensure Puerto Rico's Medicaid program doesn't run out of money in coming weeks, Jenniffer González, the territory's nonvoting representative in Congress, told Bloomberg Law.

Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, unlike for states, is capped at an annual amount. Currently, Puerto Rico has enough money to keep its Medicaid program running to June and is seeking funds for the rest of the year, Gonzalez said.

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