For health centers, state cuts loom even as federal funds rise

NORTH BAY — While community health centers are widely seen as winners with the passage of a sweeping health bill in late March, such centers in California face potentially crippling state budget cuts, which could offset potential gains that won’t take effect until 2014, according to clinic directors throughout the North Bay.

In an attempt to offset portions of California’s budget deficit of $20 billion, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed deep cuts to services at community health centers, while the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act promises to deliver scores of previously uninsured patients to clinics, thus increasing the need for services amid a dire state economy.

Funding for clinics will increase significantly at the federal level, with $1.5 billion becoming available over the next five years for clinic expansions in California, according to the California Primary Care Association.

“It’s kind of a narrow passage from now until the health bill is implemented,” said Mary Szecsey, executive director for West County Health Centers, referring to $11 billion that will be distributed to federally qualified health centers nationwide as a result of the health bill. “We certainly hope to see some of those funds because we are expanding, and we know that we’re going to have more facility and staffing needs.”

Ms. Szecsey said the biggest impact for West County Health Centers would be the elimination of FamPact funding, for which the state receives 90 cents on the dollar from the federal government. “But the governor is contemplating eliminating that 10 percent,” Ms. Szecsey said, adding that West County’s teen clinic in Forestville, which serves about 1,500 youth a year, would face closure should the cuts be borne out, thus losing access to STD prevention services, preventative pregnancy care and other services.

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