Our health care system faces a number of challenges. Lack of access to affordable, quality care for many Americans is right at the top of the list. Washington’s inability to pass long-term funding for the nation’s community health centers (CHCs) threatens to exacerbate this problem.

CHCs provide low-cost health care to many of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. More than 29 million patients, including over eight million children, are served at more than 11,000 sites nationwide. In Arkansas, there are more than 130 facilities that help nearly 200,000 people get the medical, dental, vision and behavioral health care services they need.

CHCs are an effective and cost-efficient solution in meeting the challenges to delivering affordable health care services. By providing a broad array of primary and preventative care services in a timely manner, community health centers help reduce costly, avoidable emergency department visits and extended hospital stays. This is especially true in rural America.

Nationwide, community health centers serve one in six people living in rural communities. For many of those individuals, CHCs provide health care that would otherwise be financially out of reach. In rural states like Arkansas, where provider shortages and expensive mandates limit services, CHCs are even more crucial to health care delivery.

These centers are often on the frontlines of the fight against our nation’s opioid epidemic. The majority of CHCs provide substance use disorder services, offering a chance to break the cycle of opioid addiction for uninsured and under-insured Americans who likely would have nowhere else to turn.

Perhaps most importantly, CHCs improve the health of those they serve while saving taxpayer dollars. On average, community health centers save over $2,300 per Medicaid patient and our health care system overall $24 billion each year.

CHCs receive federal support through the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) which, in recent years, has only received short-term extensions. This puts access to quality care for millions of Americans in jeopardy every time the authorization’s expiration approaches. This is the predicament we find ourselves in once again.

I have joined a bipartisan group of senators to push for a long-term funding fix in an effort to solve this problem before it becomes a crisis again. We are calling for immediate passage of the Community Health Investment, Modernization, and Excellence (CHIME) Act of 2019 in order to prevent a disruption of care for those who use CHCs.

The CHIME Act would reauthorize funding CHCF for five years. If the CHCF expires, community health centers will lose 70 percent of their federal grant funding.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, this would cause an estimated 2,400 site closures, 47,000 lost jobs and threaten the health care of millions of Americans.

As small businesses, community health centers must have certainty to best serve the needs of their communities and patients. Some centers will soon have to take steps in anticipation of a funding lapse, including reducing staff and operating hours, cancelling capital projects or even preparing to close their doors.

If the CHCF expires this month, community health centers will be unable to plan for the future and continue to better the health of their communities.

Community health centers have maintained strong support from both sides of the aisle for over fifty years. For this reason, I remain optimistic that we can pass the CHIME Act to provide certainty for CHCs and protect reliable and affordable health care access for millions of Americans. I will continue working to help fund this important element of health care delivery in Arkansas and across our nation.

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