Blumenthal offers confidence in funding for health care centers at Norwich UCSF stop
Norwich — Community health centers like the United Community and Family Services clinic in Norwich could face a significant cut in Affordable Care Act-ensured federal funding if Congress doesn't act by the end of September.
But U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters during a visit to the Norwich health center, one of several UCFS clinics in Connecticut that service more than 18,000 patients a year collectively, that he's confident Congress will come to a consensus on federal funding by the Sept. 30 expiration date for the funding.
"The precipice is there in red states and blue states alike," he said. "Republicans are all saying we need to meet this need."
When it was signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act established a trust fund guaranteeing funding for community health centers.
Congress voted to extend the fund at $7.2 billion in 2015 by two years, temporarily averting a mandatory funding "cliff" that would result in a 70 percent cut to federal community health center programming nationwide.
The cliff is approaching again at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, though, and will not make it to the health centers if Congress doesn't vote to appropriate that money.
The federal grants associated with that fund make up a relatively small portion of the $33 million annual UCFS budget, system president and CEO Jennifer Granger said Monday after touring the Norwich clinic with Blumenthal and reporters.
UCFS provides medical, dental and behavioral health services at multiple locations in eastern Connecticut, including the Norwich location that Blumenthal visited Monday.
"We're not going to close, and we'll always be here to provide services" regardless of people's ability to pay, Granger said.
But losing the community health center grants and other Affordable Care Act-related support systems would limit new programs UCFS could provide, she said.
"It's significant, and it's helping us expand the services we provide," she said.
Blumenthal was in Norwich on a tour of community health centers across the state to learn about ways that health care providers are combating the opioid addiction epidemic.
Doctors and administrators at the Edward & Mary Lord Family Health Center told Blumenthal they are using alternative approaches to pain management — such as meditation and herbal remedies — to try to prevent addiction to opiate painkillers.
Health centers across the country are also paying close attention to President Donald Trump's threats to end the subsidies to insurance companies that help them cover millions of low-income people.
The payments, which are a part of the Affordable Care Act and reimburse insurers for lowering health care costs for low-income people, keep many UCFS clients insured and able to receive preventative care, Granger said.
"Those individuals would go back to being uninsured and less likely to receive services," she said.