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OPINION: There's no worse time to threaten the healthcare of millions of Americans than during a pandemic.

With the 2020 presidential election just weeks away and a Supreme Court justice's seat up for grabs, the Affordable Care Act has once again come under attack and with it, critical funding for the thousands of community health clinics across the United States that deliver care to 29 million Americans.

Community health clinics (CHCs) provide affordable, high quality, comprehensive primary care to medically underserved populations, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay for services.

As chief executive officer of a Federally Qualified Health Center, I am deeply concerned at the prospect of the Affordable Care Act going away.

Neighborhood Health Center (NHC) offers medical, dental, family planning/reproductive health, and behavioral health services to Medicaid, Medicare and underinsured patients in Clackamas and Washington counties.

Over 85% of our more than 21,000 patients live 200% below the federal poverty level.

Without federal funding made possible by the Affordable Care Act, NHC and all community health clinics would no longer be able to provide critical services to some of our nation's most vulnerable, including children, immigrants, persons of color and veterans.

Community health clinics are good for the economy.

CHCs save 24% more per Medicaid patient compared to other providers and offer a lower cost of care for Medicare patients as well. CHCs also save 30% more per child than other providers.

CHCs like NHC typically deliver more preventative service than regular health centers. NHC and a growing number of community health clinics across the U.S. also provide dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, and other important services.

Community health clinics have a unique role to play in responding to COVID-19.

Our country is currently battling a pandemic that has already claimed more than 210,000 American lives and saddled thousands more with long-term health conditions.

We know that COVID-19 isn't going away anytime soon, and that it disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Data suggests a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups: COVID-19 death rates among Black/African American persons and Hispanic/Latino persons are substantially higher than that of White or Asian persons.

Neighborhood Health Center has been able to uniquely respond to the pandemic by offering drive-through nurse clinics and free COVID-19 screenings to immigrants and persons of color, with or without symptoms.

The stakes are high.

While there is never a good time to take health are away from the millions of Americans who need it most, I cannot think of a worse time than in the midst of a global pandemic.

I urge Oregonians to make their voices heard at the ballot box this November. With your vote, you can send a message that the services community health clinics provide —services made possible by the Affordable Care Act — are essential to the health of our communities.

Jeri Weeks is chief executive officer at Neighborhood Health Center (NHC), a nonprofit community health center that serves a federally designated Medically Underserved Population in a federally designated Health Professional Shortage Area.


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