(Pic by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Viramontes)

Rejection of federal health care money leaves Osceola community centers out millions

By | 08.08.11 | 5:11 pm

Community health centers in Osceola County are losing out on millions of federal dollars thanks to state policy-makers’ decision to not accept federal funds because they are allocated through the Affordable Care Act.

This week is National Health Center Week, “dedicated to recognizing the service and contributions of Community, Migrant, Homeless and Public Housing Health Centers in providing access to affordable, high quality, cost-effective health care to medically vulnerable and underserved people in the U.S.”

According to the Obama administration’s health care reform website, Florida could have benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s “increased funding for Community Health Centers,” if the state had taken part in reform efforts. Andrew Behrman, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers, says Florida’s health centers are currently not getting that money.

Florida legislators are rejecting the implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act because Florida is in litigation with the federal government over the constitutionality of the law. Legislators also do not want to commit to more spending by the state, which Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, tells The Florida Independent would be the result of taking federal funds.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office explains that the Legislature, not the governor’s office, specifically struck down $8.3 million for the expansion of community health centers in Osceola County.

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health says “the grant was intended to expand facilities at two Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) in Kissimmee and St. Cloud; and construct a new two-story building in Poinciana.”

Legislators have already received criticism for not accepting grants for programs such as child abuse and neglect prevention as part of the Legislature’s “well-established policy of not implementing any portion of federal heath care reform.” However, they did accept monies allocated through health care reform for abstinence-only education.

Katie Betta— communications director for Speaker of the House Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park — has told the Independent the Legislature accepted those particular funds because that grant “represents a continuation of existing funding for programs we have committed to and been engaged in for years.”

She also explains that “the Legislature does not explicitly approve every grant or expenditure in the base of the budget.”

According to Behrman, in the meantime, community health centers in Florida could really use the federal funds. “We need those dollars,” he says.

Community health centers are neighborhood clinics that provide medical services to populations that otherwise have little access to care. The centers are a mixture of public entities and private nonprofits. Almost 400 centers in the state receive taxpayer dollars.

The Center for American Progress recently released a report evaluating the effectiveness of community health centers around the country. According to the organization’s report, “community health centers are a crucial source of health care for a diverse group of patients, providing preventive services, treatment, and care management for medically under-served communities.” These centers fill in access and care disparity gaps among “a diverse array of low-income workers and their families, most of them ethnic or racial minorities, as well as individuals with disabilities, immigrants, and part of the gay and transgender community—all under-served communities prone to receiving disparate health care services.”

Most importantly, the need for these centers, American Progress reports, is growing:

The patient load in community health centers around the nation is on the rise. The number of people without access to affordable health care—56 million, or one-fifth of Americans, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers—is growing because of rising health care costs for individuals and families and due to persistent unemployment at near-double-digit percentages, which eliminates employer-based health insurance for those workers who lose their jobs and for their families, too.

Florida currently has the second highest rate of people without insurance in the country.

According to the U.S. government’s health care reform website, “the Affordable Care Act provides $11 billion to bolster and expand community health centers over the next 5 years.” According to the site:

  • $1.5 billion will support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers nationwide.
  • $9.5 billion will:
    • Create new community health center sites in medically under-served areas; and
    • Expand preventive and primary health care services, including oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and/or enabling services, at existing community health center sites.

Behrman says the Florida Association of Community Health Centers is considering looking into whether there is another way for the state’s health centers to receive the federal funds.

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