Funds sought for federally qualified health centers

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony Feb. 8 on a bill that would provide funds for health centers to expand their capacity.

Under LB923, introduced by Gering Sen. John Stinner, the state’s seven federally qualified health centers would receive a total of $5 million in additional general fund appropriations in fiscal year 2016-17.

The bill would divide $1.4 million equally among the centers, with $200,000 provided to each. An additional $1.2 million would be distributed proportionally to the centers based on the total number of patients served in the previous year. Finally, $2.4 million would be distributed proportionally based upon the number of uninsured patients served by each center in the previous year.

Stinner noted that the state’s current budget outlook will require difficult funding choices, but said federally qualified health centers are an important investment in Nebraska. The centers cannot turn patients away, he said, and failing to provide adequate funding to them will cost the state in other ways.

“Now more than ever—with our uninsured numbers skyrocketing—we must help support them to serve this vital role,” he said, adding that the seven health care centers saved the state’s health care system more than $87 million last year.

Andrea Skolkin, testifying on behalf of the Health Center Association of Nebraska, supported the bill.

“Nebraska’s federally qualified health centers provide comprehensive, community-based, culturally appropriate primary and preventative care,” Skolkin said, adding that over half of the centers’ patients are uninsured. The centers, which are located across the state, keep low-income and uninsured patients from visiting emergency rooms, she said.

Jeff Tracy of Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska, also testified in favor of the bill. One of the most pressing needs of patients seen by the panhandle provider is oral health care, he said, yet the current wait for a nonemergency dental appointment is nearly three months.

“Access to high-quality, affordable health care plays a critical role in ensuring that Nebraskans are successful,” Tracy said. “The difficulty in not expanding those services—or funding this bill—is that you leave a lot of individuals unserved, who end up costing the state a lot more money.”

No one testified in opposition to LB923 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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