December 2, 2010 in City

Wash. state suspending grants to community clinics

Cuts affect health coverage for the uninsured
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington state is suspending grants that enable community clinics to provide health care to about 300,000 uninsured patients.

Suspension of the program was announced this week by the Washington State Health Care Authority as part of across-the-board reductions in state spending. The change takes effect Jan. 1 and will affect about a third of the 900,000 people who visit 214 Community Health Services clinics throughout the state.

The Community Health Association of Spokane will lose half of its annual $569,000 grant, affecting about 14,000 uninsured patients or 40 percent of its 34,000 clients.

“It is unlikely CHAS will be able to weather this latest round of cuts and be able to maintain its current service levels,” said CHAS Chief Operating Officer Aaron Wilson.

The grants — part of a state program that has supported Community Health Services since 1985 — provide dental and medical care on a sliding scale to working people who cannot afford insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The program suspension halfway through the fiscal year, which ends June 30, will save the state about $5.3 million.

“It is the safety net’s safety net,” said Toni Lodge, director of NATIVE Health in Spokane, which will lose about half of its annual grant of $86,000.

“It’s probably the most effective preventative grant,” Lodge said. “It keeps people out of the ER.”

Also affected are the Spokane Falls Family Clinic, the Northeast Washington Health Programs and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The cuts come at a time when demand for services for low-income clients at community health centers is at an all-time high.

In 2009, according to the Community Health Network of Washington, the clinics served 34,000 more uninsured patients than the previous year, a 17 percent increase.

Earlier this fall, the state announced plans to cut Medicaid programs to achieve nearly $113 million in savings through June in the federal and state health insurance program for the poor.

However, at least one Medicaid service appears to have been spared the budget ax.

The proposed elimination of hospice coverage was overturned this week by Gov. Chris Gregoire, who said the cut would be a hardship on clients and their families, and probably would not achieve the projected savings anyway.

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