Community Health Centers recently marked the one year milestone of vaccinating and protecting populations from COVID. With now 21 million vaccines administered, and a documented success of fewer deaths and infections in places where there is a health center, another challenge looms: financial uncertainty. With pandemic federal funding winding down, NACHC is tracking how health centers can continue to serve their mission by providing care to uninsured and underinsured Americans as additional COVID-19 variants emerge.
The Biden Administration requested $22.5 billion for COVID-19 services in a broader bill to fund the government. However, lawmakers in Congress were unable to agree on continuing the funding, and ultimately the COVID funds were stripped from the larger package. COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations have been in decline, but the White House warned in a recent fact sheet that “without funding, the United States will not have enough additional boosters or variant specific vaccines, if needed, for all Americans.” Also health centers were recently notified that starting on April 6th the federal COVID-19 Uninsured Program would stop accepting claims for vaccinating, testing, and treating COVID patients who do not have the means to pay their medical bills. The fund had been a lifeline during the worst upsurges of the virus, when health centers were exhaustively vaccinating, testing, and treating non-acute COVID cases and diverting them from overwhelmed hospitals.
In a recent letter to Congressional appropriators, NACHC called these developments “troubling” and noted that as “federally supported nonprofit, community-directed provider clinics, health centers operate on thin margins and cannot absorb pandemic-related costs without federal assistance… The announcement that the Uninsured Program will stop accepting claims due to a lack of funding has raised concerns for health centers across the country.”
Top federal health officials are also underscoring their concerns about stalled funding as a new highly transmissible Omicron subvariant is emerging. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra warned that “continued execution requires continued support from Congress. And at this stage, our resources are depleted.”
NACHC is closely tracking these developments and will keep you posted.