by Morgan Lee, Associated Press
October 4, 2017

SANTA FE — Operators of community health centers in New Mexico watched warily on Wednesday as congressional committees in Washington wrestled with proposals to extend crucial funding for clinics that are a mainstay of rural health care in the state.

Federal funding expired at the end of September for federally qualified health centers, along with a popular health insurance program for children from low-income families.

Community health centers in New Mexico — which provide medical, dental and mental health services — say they can operate normally until at least January without renewed federal funding that accounts for about one-fifth of their spending, and some centers would have later deadlines.

Current federal funding for the children’s insurance program should last well into 2018 without reauthorization. Without renewal, the New Mexico Human Services Department estimates it would need an additional $31 million a year to maintain the same coverage for children under Medicaid.

In Washington, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee opposed Republican plans for financing the funding extensions on Wednesday, while a Senate proposal for renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program still leaves out how to pay for an extension.

In New Mexico, Steven Hansen, CEO of Presbyterian Medical Services, noted that the expired federal funding for health centers traditionally helps pay for uninsured patients, often in remote rural areas. Presbyterian treats about 75,000 patients a year at community health centers, from Farmington to Hobbs, and Hansen said he was both jittery and optimistic that the expired federal funding would be renewed.

“The jitter part is we’ve never been this far past deadline,” he said. “The optimistic side is that we have some bills that are actually written and going through the process.”

About 11,300 children in the state rely on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to Bill Jordan of New Mexico Voices for Children. He said the program enjoys support from both Republicans and Democrats.

“The hard part I think, for both the House and the Senate, is how to pay for it,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan has blamed Republican congressional leaders for delays in reauthorizing the health programs. He signed a letter in mid-September warning of the looming deadline.

Keeley Christensen, a spokeswoman for GOP Rep. Steve Pearce said that “action must be taken in the near future to avoid any disruption of access to these programs.”

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