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Community Health Centers Call On Congress To Restore Funding

Jackie Yamanaka

Federal funding for community health centers expired September 30, 2017 and unless Congress acts soon this medical safety net for thousands of Montanans could lose access to basic health care.

Federal lawmakers face another budget deadline Thursday.

“We have been facing what we call the triple cliff,” says Doctor James Guyer of Riverstone Health.  

The Billings-based community health center depends on Congressional funding to help provide direct care to patients, pay scholarships for its providers, and pay for 3 positions in its Family Medicine Residency program.

“The short term funding that we’ve been experiencing has made it very difficult to predict and supply services for our patients,” says Dr. Guyer.

The Montana Primary Care Association says over 106,000 Montanans receive their basic medical, dental, and behavioral primary care at a community health center.

Dr. Guyer says Riverstone receives about $4.5 million a year from Congress for direct care for patients.  He says federal funding also helps feed the pipeline of doctors, nurses and other medical providers.

Dr. Guyer, heads of the Residency Program at Riverstone Health, worries without this funding, they could lose medical providers. He says currently, Riverstone could lose 9 physicians who are currently receiving scholarships to help offset the cost of their education.

Credit Jackie Yamanaka
Dr. James Guyer at Riverstone Health

He’s also worried about the future of the Residency Program. Federal funding had covered 3 resident positions for 3 years.

“If we lose that support for our resident education here it would have an adverse impact on recruiting physicians for rural Montana,” says Dr. Guyer.

He says of the just over 120 residents that have gone through their program, almost 75% have set up practice in Montana, including Lewistown, Miles City and Colstrip.

Riverstone Health was among other Community Health Centers that participated in a day of action demanding Congress Act. 

Credit courtesy U.S. Senator Jon Tester's press office
Montana's Congressional delegation joined other members of Congress on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to call for funding for community health centers.

Montana’s Congressional delegation joined several other members of Congress on the U.S. Capitol steps to demand renewed funding for community health centers.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester says these facilities provide health care that’s effective and affordable. The Democrat called on Congress to go beyond temporary funding.

“Without long-term funding, these health care facilities could close down and lay off staff.  It is time for Congress to quit kicking the can down the road and provide Community Health Centers with long-term certainty,” says Tester in a press release.

“With 17 community health centers in Montana, they are vital to providing health care to thousands of Montanans,” says Republican U.S. Senator Steve Daines in a press release. “Health care is a priority for Montanans and Washington D.C. needs to get this done.”

Congressman Greg Gianforte joined just over 100 of his colleagues in signing a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan calling to ensure continued and predictable funding for community health centers.

In a press release, Gianforte’s staff anticipates a short-term government funding bill may be considered this week.

Community health centers are hoping for a bill that funds them for 5 years.

“What we really need is a longer term solution so we can plan for resident education and we can plan for patient care, we can plan our staffing,” says Dr. Guyer. He says it’s hard to be efficient and plan on budgets that last a few months.