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Federal funding for Petaluma Health Center at risk

The Petaluma Health Center stands to lose nearly $2 million in federal funding - money needed to offset the cost of covering uninsured patients - unless Congress reallocates funding by the end of the month.

The health center reauthorization is separate from the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which also threatened health care funding in California. Both actions faced a Sept. 30 deadline.

For the Petaluma Health Center, the loss of federal funding would mean a $1.9 million reduction to its $40 million budget. The bulk of the center’s revenue comes from billing patients and insurance companies for services provided, according to Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer of the Petaluma Health Center.

He said the federal grant pays for uninsured and low-income patients and also covers mandatory malpractice insurance.

“We’re hopeful that Congress will fund the full amount as it always has,” he said. “It would be painful to lose it. We’d have to go into fundraising mode, which we haven’t done in years.”

If Congress does not reauthorize the funding, the nearly dozen community health centers in Sonoma and Marin counties will lose more than $15.3 million in federal funding, and 11,000 patients will lose access to care, according to Melinda Rivera, community and government outreach director at Petaluma-based Redwood Community Health Coalition.

“These threats could fundamentally undermine the health care safety net by shrinking access to care and reducing health care coverage for patients throughout our region,” she said in a statement.

Petaluma Health Center is the second largest system in Sonoma County with eight locations, including the headquarters on North McDowell Boulevard, two clinics at Petaluma high schools, a clinic in Rohnert Park and a recently opened eye care center at the Rohnert Park Walmart.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said in a statement that his colleagues in Congress should urgently reauthorize the health center funding.

“The North Coast’s top-notch community health centers perform crucial work every day for my constituents, many of whom are in rural and low-income communities that rely on these centers to provide medical care,” he said. “Congress has just days to reauthorize funding for the Community Health Center Fund and the Children’s Health Insurance Program before we start to run the serious risk of thousands of patients losing access to care, layoffs and the closure of some health center sites. It’s critical that Congress act now to protect health centers and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

The GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act also faced an end-of-the-month deadline, although that effort appeared to fail.

Toledo said the Petaluma Health Center does not rely heavily on the federal funding, but would miss the additional revenue. The $1.9 million in funding is about the cost of three doctors and a nurse, he said.

“We try and be as self-reliant as possible,” he said. “If we lost the funding, it would not be easy. We’re already pretty lean. We plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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