Congress Fails to Renew Federal Health Program

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WESLACO – Healthcare for hundreds of thousands of low-income families in Texas is at risk after Congress failed to renew funding for a federal program.

Nearly 400,000 children in Texas get their insurance through the Children's Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP.

Funding for community health centers that serve low-income people and the uninsured is also in jeopardy. More than a handful of those health centers are here in the Rio Grande Valley.

"If Congress doesn't take action very soon, by the end of this month – preferably then – health centers could be looking at a significant loss in health care funding," said Mimi Garcia, spokesperson for the Texas Association of Community Health Centers.

Garcia said the funding will still be able to be provided by the state, but that won't last for long.

"The state Health and Human Services Agency said they will not be able to cover kids on CHIP through February. That the money will run out then," said Garcia.

Hope Family Health Center in McAllen is bracing for an impact. The center serves the uninsured and Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP or any other form of coverage is not accepted at the center.

Hope Family Health Center executive director Rebecca Stoker said that is where issues will come into play.

"The community members who are uninsured will come seeking other resources, of course, for services," said Stoker.

Those who previously relied on CHIP or community health centers will then rely on clinics where no insurance is needed.

Stocker said that could present a problem, especially because the center relies solely on volunteer physicians.

"There will be a lag time between their cares," she said. "Whether it's their medication or anything else that they were seeing for the chronic illnesses or just they get sick, they may not be able to see the physician."

Stocker said it will be a ripple effect from the community health centers, to clinics for the uninsured to emergency rooms.

Apolonio Garcia takes care of his diabetic needs at the Hope Family Health Center.

"I didn't have a way to solve my problem because I had to pay around $4,800 for my surgery," Garcia said.

He said he cannot afford to wait for the care he needs on a daily basis.

Without federal funding, Texas has enough money for CHIP to last until February 2018.

Federal lawmakers said they're working on a plan to continue the program before funding runs out for Texas.


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