Springfield Journal Register

September 18, 2002

Congress' actions could hurt health care 
Bill awaiting reauthorization 


By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Illinois officials, including those in Springfield, are worried that thousands of low-income residents could find their access to health care jeopardized if Congress fails to reauthorize a popular community health-care program by the end of the year.

In Springfield, the Capital Community Health Center on the city's east side was started three years ago and serves 16,000 a year on a $2 million budget - 27 percent of which comes from the federal government.

Statewide, there are 160 community health centers. Several more are in the planning stages.

While funding is expected to continue in the near-term, congressional inaction would delay needed improvements, leave the program vulnerable to future budget cutting and jeopardize President Bush's initiative to add 1,200 new health centers over the next five years, advocates say.

"It has some very serious consequences," said Lisa Gregory, manager of government affairs for the Illinois Primary Health Care Association in Springfield. The reauthorization bill, which sets rules for how federal money is to be spent, would protect funding for the health centers and protect the concept under which they are set up, she said.

"President Bush made community health centers a core of his health-care plan. He gave us a challenge to double the number of health-care centers by 2005. So if the reauthorization doesn't pass, there is no protection for the money that is needed to implement the new initiative," Gregory said.

She and others from the state association plan to travel to Washington next week to urge members of the Illinois congressional delegation to push for passage of the bill, which has broad, bipartisan support.

The legislation reauthorizing the program has been held hostage by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, over an unrelated abortion issue. 

The authorization expired last fall.

Armey spokesman Greg Crist said Tuesday there may be action as early as next week on the abortion-related bill, which he said "bodes well" for the health-center reauthorization passed by the Senate in April.

But time is running out before Congress adjourns.

Forrest Olson, president of the Springfield center, said he's concerned that the delay in reauthorization ultimately could leave the program vulnerable to budget cuts.

"We can receive funds without the programs being authorized, but the longer that stays in effect, it increases the possibility of something negative happening," Olson said.