Commentary: State budget a good first step in real change for marginalized communities

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Uplifting news can be hard to find these days. Representing health care providers serving largely minority communities, we see the challenges everywhere. The coronavirus pandemic has presented historic tests for our health care system. Racial unrest confirms that, while we have made progress in this country since Lincoln and King, we have much further to go.

Yet, this is not a time for despair. At the Illinois Primary Health Care Association, we are encouraged by small progress made during these challenging times, and the opportunity for real change that lies ahead.

The solution? Meaningful, sustained investment in marginalized communities. No more lip service.

An important first step came in the new Illinois state budget that goes into effect July 1. The legislative session was largely put on hold this year because of shutdowns to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Lawmakers and Gov. JB Pritzker could have taken the easy way out and passed a "maintenance" budget that kept spending flat.

Instead, they heard the pleas of help from 390 community health centers across Illinois – from Waukegan to Cairo, and Quincy to Danville – who needed more. They responded with nearly $200 million in emergency funds for health centers to address challenges related to coronavirus and millions more in base funding to strengthen access to care for years to come.

These new dollars are significant, because they will help those who have been left behind for far too long.

Community health centers, or Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), were created under federal law more than 50 years ago, out of the civil rights movement, when our nation’s leaders realized we were not doing enough to provide quality, affordable health care coverage to our low-income and minority communities.

Today, nearly 60 percent of our members’ patients receive Medicaid coverage, 20 percent have no health insurance coverage, and nearly 70 percent are minorities. Each year, Illinoisans see a nearly $2 billion return on investment from community health centers in the form of improved health care outcomes for our 1.4 million patients and reduced health care costs by preventing the need for care in more expensive settings.

The coronavirus pandemic underscored the need for our role. The virus spread in greater-than-expected ways in African-American and Latino communities, with devastating consequences. African-Americans represented nearly one-third of all COVID-19 related deaths, yet they make up just 15 percent of our state’s population. And, the infection rates in the Latino community were staggeringly high, far above the rates for other populations. The investments made in this state budget will help ensure we avoid a repeat. Our centers also played a key role in fighting the spread of the virus by partnering with the Pritzker administration to test more than 160,000 Illinoisans, through more than 125 drive-thru, walkup and mobile stations in just a few weeks.

We say thank you to Gov. Pritzker, our legislative leaders, and our health care experts in the Legislature who understand the critical role of community health centers: Senators Heather Steans, Elgie Sims, Andy Manar, Omar Aquino and Dave Syverson, and House leaders Greg Harris and Tom Demmer to name a few.

We must also give specific thanks to the members of the Black and Latino caucuses in the Legislature for making our cries for help your priorities in this difficult budget. You will play a strong leadership role in the change that is coming, as we recognize and work to heal the deep scars of racial inequities.

We are ready to work together, to do better, and to put our calls for change into action. It is time we restore trust, faith, and hope for Illinoisans who have been left behind. Health care must be treated as a right, not a privilege because at the heart of vibrant, prosperous communities are safe, healthy, and thriving families and individuals.

Jordan Powell is president the CEO of Illinois Primary Health Care Association in Springfield.

26-Delivered

via Lincoln Courier

June 30, 2020 at 07:23AM

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