Federal budget cuts threaten community health clinics

Young and old, rich and poor, whites and Latinos come to the health center on Cloverdale's main street for medical care, and their numbers will increase, especially patients with no insurance, officials say.

But a $600 million federal budget cut enacted last month is likely to quash the Alexander Valley Regional Medical Center's bid for a $650,000 grant to expand its services to residents of the Cloverdale-Geyserville area.

Five other community health centers covering the rest of Sonoma County applied for about $1.5 million in federal grants to serve an additional 10,000 patients.

The funding decisions have been delayed, but the health centers are expecting significantly less money, if any.

"Expansion of health center services will have to be scaled back," said Mary Szecsey, chairwoman of the Redwood Community Health Coalition, which represents local health centers.

The budget cut comes as local health centers are ramping up to care for more than 45,000 residents who will gain health insurance in 2014, under provisions of the health care bill signed into law last year.

The law also authorized $11 billion for community health centers to double the number of people they serve by 2015.

This year's $600 million spending cut amounts to a "defunding" of the health care law, Szecsey said, referring to a strategy cited by Republicans as an alternative to repealing the law.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who voted against the cut, said it would "pull the health care safety net away from the uninsured."

The cut was part of a measure, negotiated by President Barack Obama and leading Democratic and Republican lawmakers, to avert a government shutdown early last month. The measure included $38 billion in federal spending cuts, scaled back from the $61 billion in cuts approved by House Republicans in February, driven by tea party members intent on curbing the federal deficit.

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