Ensuring the Stability and Continued Growth of Community Health Centers Should Be a Health Reform Priority, Sara Rosenbaum Argues

Professor Sara Rosenbaum

The need to ensure that nearly 1,400 community health centers don’t go “over the cliff” and lose 71 percent of their grant funding should be one of the health reform priorities in the upcoming Congress, says Sara Rosenbaum, JD, the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy and Founding Chair of the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

In a commentary posted on Take Care, a major blog site that caters to the congressional and legal communities, Rosenbaum explained why she believes that community health center funding is a pressing health reform priority. Congress extended funding for community health centers in 2018, but only for two years. She make a case for why securing a more permanent and long-lasting source of funding for the centers should be on the reform agenda, together with making private insurance more affordable, extending Medicare to the near-elderly, bringing down the cost of health care, and finding ways to incentivize the remaining hold-out states to expand Medicaid.

“Over five decades, operating grants have made it possible for health centers to serve as primary care anchors in communities and for populations designated by law as medically underserved,” Rosenbaum explains in the blog. “In 2017 health centers served more than 27 million residents in 11,000 communities across the country and provided services across the lifespan: pregnancy and newborn care; comprehensive care for children and adolescents; primary care management for adults with physical and mental health conditions that can be well-managed in primary care settings; women’s preventive health services; and, increasingly, community-based long-term services and support for people living with disabilities and for the elderly.”

In her commentary, Rosenbaum explains why federal grants are so important to maintaining the centers’ ability to fulfill all of these crucial functions. Grant funding—constituting just under 20 percent of ongoing health center operations in 2018—is the foundation on which the [centers] rest,” she says. “Because of where they are located, what they offer, and whom they serve, health centers have become an integral part of the American health care system…. What is needed at this point is a longer-term strategy, one that acknowledges health centers for what they have become – an indispensable part of the American health care landscape.”

The blog provides key information about the history of federal funding for community health centers and why they have enjoyed bipartisan support. It also includes her suggestions for longer-term funding strategies. “In light of health centers’ vital role and their judicious use of the resources entrusted to them, to say that this investment should be doable is the understatement of the century.”

“Health Reform Priorities in the Next Two Years: Ensuring the Stability and Continued Growth of Community Health Centers” can be found here.