Sorry, Congress: Funding CHIP is meaningless without funding community health centers, too.
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Last month, a young man named Diego came into the clinic for a normal physical. He’s fourteen years old, from a low-income family, and had no health insurance at the time. After we enrolled him in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), our doctor found that he had an abnormal heart murmur-- a condition that, if left untreated in adolescents like Diego, can result in serious illness or death. Just a few weeks after his initial visit to our clinic, Diego received surgery to repair a congenital heart defect that had damaged his heart valve and could have killed him.

After a close scare, it did not go unnoticed by Diego’s family that his life was saved by a combination of CHIP and the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF). These two federally funded programs allow clinics like St. John’s Well Child and Family Center to serve kids like Diego-- without them, many low-income families wouldn’t be able to access health care at all.

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Stories like Diego’s are not uncommon. In fact, most children with CHIP receive health care at non-profit community health centers-- of the 48,000 children St. John’s serves, 18,000 are covered through CHIP. In other words, funding CHIP but neglecting to fund the CHCF is essentially useless to the children who depend on CHIP for their health care. After the recent vote to fund CHIP, children now officially have health insurance again-- but with the community health centers they typically visit in serious danger of being closed down due to Congress’ failure to fund the community health centers where many receive care, they may have nowhere to use turn.

Since Trump and other Republican politicians enjoy pretending that jobs and the economy are the right’s primary focus, here are some numbers that have nothing to do with harming sick children. Without the $8.5 million-- 10 percent of our annual budget-- in federal funding that St. John’s receives through the CHCF, we will be forced to close 6 of our 15 health centers, lay off 25 doctors and 100 staff members, and deny health care to tens of thousands of children and their families. But in case that isn’t enough, St. John’s is not alone in this very real threat to public health centers and local jobs-- across the country, more than 50,000 jobs would be lost, and 9 million patients in rural areas and inner cities across the country would lose their health care as more than 2,800 health centers are forced to close.

Many of these clinics that depend on the CHCF are, ironically, located in deep red districts to whom Trump promises the world time and time again-- yet continues to abandon at every turn.

The most infuriating part of this ridiculous battle is that health care is not a leftist issue by any means-- historically, funding for community health centers has been a bipartisan initiative. Both President George W. Bush and President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama: Are we a nation that rips families apart? Another chance to seek the return of fiscal sanity to the halls of Congress Colombia’s new leader has a tough road ahead, and Obama holdovers aren't helping MORE worked to dramatically expand health center funding, because both recognized that the wealthiest nation in the world should ensure its citizens have their most basic human rights addressed. Thanks to various initiatives by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the community health center program now provides health care services to over 30 million Americans, and is continuously rated one of the top three most effective and efficient programs funded by the federal government by the Federal Office of Management and Budget.

Yet here we are, with community health centers facing unprecedented cuts for the first time since their inception as part of the War on Poverty in 1965. As Trump and his Republican cronies continue to use health care as a political football and refuse to include health center funding in their continuing budget resolution, community health centers and the patients we serve are forced to wait anxiously, wondering if any of us will make it out alive.

At the end of the day, health care is not about politics or party lines. It’s about the lives of the millions of hardworking, tax paying families living in rural or inner-city districts across America who depend on community health centers. It’s time that we all start recognizing that health is a fundamental human right for all-- regardless of geographic location or ability to pay. But whether or not the politicians who are supposed to serve our best interests find any morality within the next three weeks, I have one thing to say: the 27 million people who depend on community health centers will see you at the polls.

Jim Mangia is president and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles.