Ruppersberger decries proposed federal health cuts
Speaking at a community health center in Cherry Hill on Tuesday, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said that federal budget cuts proposed for low-income health clinics could cost Maryland as much as $2 billion over the next five years.
The Baltimore County Democrat said the centers, which were already the target of cuts in a spending measure passed by Congress earlier this month, save the national health care system as much as $17.6 billion a year by helping low-income patients avoid emergency rooms when they get sick.
“As our country examines ways to reduce our federal deficit, I agree that everything must be on the table,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “However, health care cuts at this level will force our already cash-strapped state to reduce funding to a wide range of health care providers such as community health centers and will severely hurt our seniors. Health care providers may have to lay off doctors and nurses -- or worse, shut their doors -- and our entire health care system will suffer.”
Sixteen nonprofit community health centers in Maryland operate 111 clinics and serve some 261,875 patients, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers. They provide primary care, mental health treatment and other services for the uninsured, seniors on Medicare, families on Medicaid and patients who have private health insurance, according to a story this month in The Sun.
As part of the agreement struck to avert a government shutdown and keep federal agencies running through the end of September, Congress cut $600 million from the roughly $2 billion that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sends to the centers annually, though some of that money could be restored from funding included in the new health care law.
Ruppersberger said he is particularly concerned about a proposal included in the GOP 2012 budget that would turn the Medicaid program for low-income patients into a block grant, effectively reducing the subsidy to states as the cost of caring for those patients increases.
At the same time, members of both parties acknowledge that Washington must cut spending on entitlement programs to reduce spiraling budget deficits. Medicaid enrollment nationwide increased by 3.7 million between June 2009 and June 2010, bringing the total number of enrollees to 50.3 million, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.