Let’s cut to the chase — our health care system is getting cut off at the knees. From the endless debates in Washington about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, to local efforts in Maine that decimate an already fragile public health infrastructure, we are teetering on the edge of a cliff.

For Maine’s community health centers — who serve 1 in 6 Maine people — that cliff is quite literal. If Congress does not act before Sept. 30, community health centers will face a devastating 70 percent cut in funding. In Maine, we estimate that this “funding cliff” will lead to the closure of at least 25 health center sites, as well as 394 layoffs of clinicians and other personnel, and would lead to a loss of access for more than 29,000 patients across our great state.

Maine’s community health centers provide access to affordable, comprehensive primary care, behavioral health and dental services for those who need it most, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. Without these services, which are delivered at more than 70 locations throughout the state, Mainers from all walks of life would be forced to go without the health care they so richly deserve.

What makes this even more troubling is that these cuts would happen despite the fact that community health centers are highly efficient providers of care, saving the health care system billions of dollars every year through reductions to inpatient hospitalizations and emergency room use. In fact, patients served by community health centers have 24 percent lower total Medicaid costs than patients served in other settings. The impact of such closures is all the more frightening to contemplate when one considers that Maine is the only state in the Northeast that refused federal Medicaid expansion funds.

Across this state, thousands of our neighbors and fellow citizens — 2,040 at last count — work at community health centers, where there is a focus on high-quality, low-cost health care, especially in some of the most rural and medically underserved areas in Maine. Even as the shadow of the fiscal cliff looms, from Aug. 13-19 these community health centers are celebrating National Health Center Week, an annual event designed to spotlight the essential health services available to all Mainers.

Health centers across the state are participating in a variety of fun-filled events and educational offerings throughout the week. Their social workers, nurses, care managers and others will walk side by side with you in a parade, host a health fair, or perhaps even help your mémère sign up for health insurance.

As we take time during National Health Center Week to celebrate the significant impact that community health centers make to Maine’s economy and to the overall health of Maine people, our celebration is tempered by this looming issue in Congress. Ask yourself these questions: Without Maine’s community health centers, where will over 210,000 people go for care? Who will provide the $16 million dollars in uncompensated care for Mainers in need? If a small rural health center shutters its doors for good, will you or your neighbor be able to drive the hours it takes to find the next provider?

Maine deserves better than Washington politics. It is time for Congress to act ensure that there is no interruption in services provided by our community health centers. The health and economic well-being of our state depends on it.

Darcy Shargo is interim CEO of the Maine Primary Care Association.

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