Deal reached to fund community health centers

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Senate leaders announced a bipartisan budget deal on Wednesday that would reauthorize the Community Health Center Fund and the National Health Service Corps for two more years — a move seen as critical for maintaining primary health-care services for over 100,000 Montanans.

The deal, endorsed by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would provide $7 billion in funding over two years for the nation’s community health centers, which provide primary care, dental care and behavioral and mental health services for underserved and rural populations. Montana’s 17 community health centers, which serve as the only system of health and social support to rural communities, stand to face serious cutbacks or potential closure without renewed funding.

Speaking with reporters by phone on Wednesday, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., reiterated his longstanding support for community health centers and praised the two-year deal. After 130 days without secure community health funding, he reassured, “we’re close to the finish line.”

Also on the phone was Jody White, executive director of the Flathead Community Health Center in downtown Kalispell. White said that although she would prefer a five-year deal, the two-year option still “makes our work more robust and sustainable” and allows for the Flathead center to implement more long-term plans.

Tester also re-upped his support for the Community Health Investment, Modernization and Excellence (CHIME) Act, a bill he co-sponsored that would extend the Community Health Centers Fund for five years.

The bill found support from Montana’s other Senator, Republican Steve Daines, who signed on as a co-sponsor on Tuesday. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., joined Tester and Daines in a press conference Tuesday in support of community health centers.

The Senate’s two-year budget deal still needs to pass the House, but Tester said that due to the bipartisan nature of the deal, he’s confident that it will move ahead.

Reporter Adrian Horton can be reached at ahorton@dailyinterlake.com or at 758-4439.

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