Patients waiting to see a doctor at Montcalm Area Health Center may be hundreds of miles from the halls of the U.S. Congress, but how lawmakers decide the future of federal health care spending will likely have an immediate impact on their future. Congress is tasked with the monumental goal of finding over a trillion dollars in deficit reduction. As they say in Washington, “everything is on the table” — including possible changes to Medicaid. Many residents in our community — and our patients — are worried about what any changes being considered will mean in these tough economic times. They are low-income families, elderly or disabled Americans, and children, and many of them depend on Medicaid as their source of affordable health coverage and on our local Health Center as their only access to primary and preventive health care.
Community Health Centers are one of the most successful and dynamic partners in providing quality care and keeping costs down for Medicaid patients. In my experience as a Community Health Center facility manager in Greenville, I see first-hand how well this partnership works. Health Centers in Michigan serve 12 percent of Michigan residents on Medicaid at a total cost of only 1.2 percent of Medicaid spending in our state. We are proud that our Health Center uses a common sense, comprehensive approach to health care: our health care home model of care saves money and improves patient health. Health Centers put money back into the pockets of tax payers by generating $24 billion in savings every year to the health care system, $6 billion of which accrues to states and the federal government through Medicaid. Health Centers also bring jobs and economic benefits to our community.
Harmful changes to Medicaid and Health Center funding will hurt Health Centers and their patients. Health Centers are already stretching their budgets to care for more working poor families who are struggling to keep their jobs and health insurance, or have already lost one or both. Disruptive changes to Medicaid might also increase the costs borne by all taxpayers since Community Health Centers actually reduce overall costs in the health care system and keep people healthier. For many Americans, a good regular source of preventive medical care means fewer trips to the emergency room, which are an expensive burden on everyone.
If Congress cuts funding to Health Centers or makes harmful changes to the Medicaid program, it will hurt access to care for Michigan residents who have no other place to seek it. Yes, we must address the growing national debt as a nation — but now is the time to be thoughtful about investing our limited resources where they will do the most good. We cannot afford to break or endanger what is working well. We must not turn away from proven local solutions like Health Centers, which have, for more than 40 years, improved the health of millions of families and individuals and significantly reduced health care costs in the Medicaid program and the health care system nationwide. Isn’t that the goal in the first place?
Jennie Mills is the facility manager at the Montcalm Area Health Center.
The opinions expressed in the Guest View do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Daily News.