There is a brewing health care crisis in Connecticut, and it involves the state’s poorest and most vulnerable population of people. The good news is there is still time to solve it.
Despite Connecticut being the richest state in the country, there are still hundreds of thousands of people here who live at or below the poverty line. These are working people, people who do their best to support themselves and their families but who still depend on the basic core safety net of services provided by the state of Connecticut.
For most of this population, there is only one place to turn for health care services — Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC). There are 16 FQHCs throughout Connecticut — also known as community health centers — providing primary care, dental care, and behavioral health care services to roughly 10 percent of Connecticut’s population, or more than 350,000 people last year. The mission and mandate of FQHCs is as simple as it is critical — to provide healthcare services to everyone who needs them, even those who can’t afford to pay.
Only right now that mission is in danger. As part of the Governor’s budget-cutting proposals, $1.4 million in state funding to FQHCs has been rescinded, and unless it is replaced, this will mean losing an additional $2.4 million in matching federal funds. It adds up to a $3.8 million cut that would have a devastating impact on these 16 health centers — services would have to be reduced, jobs could be lost and that essential access to health care could be severely compromised.
What’s worse, it would force many FQHC patients to rely more heavily on emergency rooms to receive their health care, which truly is the worst case scenario. Not only would it place an increased strain on our already burdened ER staffs, but Connecticut taxpayers are paying more than $208 million a year in Medicaid payments for ER visits — 47 percent of which are for non-urgent care — so it would cost the state far more than the $1.4 million in “savings” this cut would achieve. The math is simple — emergency room care on average is 10 times more expensive than the care provided at FQHCs.
In short, these cuts to FQHCs and to that basic core safety net are bad for the state’s economy and bad for healthcare. In addition to FQHCs doing amazing work on the front lines, providing a full range of medical services to people who otherwise cannot afford them, they are also excellent stewards of the public funds they receive, maximizing every dollar to provide this vital medical care. And FQHCs aren’t just the best option for health care services for this population, but they also function as crucial small-to-midsized businesses around Connecticut, employing thousands in good jobs, contributing to local tax rolls and directly reaching people who need assistance.
In fact, at least two recent multi-state studies show that FQHCs operate at lower total costs of care for Medicare and Medicaid, compared to other providers — they achieve a savings of 23 percent (or an average of $414 per patient) for Medicaid patients, and the average daily cost of caring for patients at FQHCs is $1 lower than at all other physician settings. Connecticut’s FQHCs are the fiscally responsible option for a state looking to save money.
Fortunately there is still time to reverse this. FQHCs across the state are working with state lawmakers to show them just how critical these services are and just how painful these cuts would be. Connecticut residents who want to see the state save money and want to see that basic core safety net preserved should reach out to their state senators and representatives and make themselves heard.
We all benefit from FQHCs being able to do their job and keep their hundreds of thousands of patients healthy. Let’s all work together to convince our state’s leaders to protect and preserve this funding.
Mollie Melbourne is Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, which is based in Cheshire and represents the state’s Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). The CHCACT can also be found on Facebook.
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