Community Health Centers (CHCs) are essential lifelines for many of the country’s rural and urban communities. However, as the federal “unwinding” of Medicaid’s continuous enrollment policy progresses, CHCs across the country are experiencing severely negative impacts.

According to a report from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, CHCs stand to lose care capacity for up to 2.1 million patients, and up to 2.5 million CHC patients may lose their Medicaid coverage upon the termination of continuous enrollment. The financial impact of these events is staggering, potentially leading to a loss of $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion in patient revenue—an amount that would land somewhere around 5.5% of total CHC revenue. Patients will be significantly affected, as CHCs will have to massively reduce their patient loads to between 1.2 million and 2.1 million fewer patients. CHC staff will also be affected, looking at a potential loss of between 10,700 to 18,500 fewer staff.

Continuous Medicaid Enrollment Has Had Positive Impact on Patients

Continuous Medicaid enrollment has had a tremendously positive impact on patients’ lives. For example, it played a key part in stabilizing coverage when COVID-19 struck the nation, preventing millions of beneficiaries from enduring the pandemic without health insurance. Nonetheless, the policy ended on March 31 of this year. According to Feygele Jacobs, professor and director of the Geiger Gibson Program at GW Milken Institute of Public Health, Medicaid unwinding means that CHCs are at dire risk for not being able to provide patients with necessary health support.

Along with his team, Leighton Ku, a professor of health policy and management at GW, has determined that despite efforts to implement unwinding strategies aimed at lowering the risk for wrongful terminations, CHCs will require more robust grant funding to counterbalance these loses, noting that 40% of CHC yearly revenue comes from Medicaid. Ku also notes that long-term stabilization of the Community Health Center Fund significantly benefits CHCs, as it gives core-operating grants. Such grants can aid CHCs in funding millions of patients in medically underserved areas that stand to lose any option for healthcare when they lose Medicaid. For such patients, losing Medicaid means increased health risks and potentially falling deeper into poverty.

Ku urges people to recognize that the Medicaid unwinding will have severe consequences for both patients and CHCs. As it begins to trigger a downturn in CHC revenue, CHCs will increasingly struggle to be able to provide community members with vital healthcare.