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Guest opinion

Grijalva: House votes to wipe out school-based health centers

On May 4, the Republican House majority approved a bill few people outside Washington had heard of – a bill that, if it becomes law, would hurt our community and wipe out one of the most significant achievements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The supporters of H.R. 1214 didn't bother to give it a real title; they just called it "To repeal mandatory funding for school-based health center construction." What those bland words don't tell you is that school-based health centers are one of the best means to improve children's health nationwide, and that more of them will mean a healthier population and thousands of new jobs for generations to come.

What's a school-based health center? It's a clinic that:

  • is located in or near a public or tribal school facility;
  • is organized through school, community, and health provider relationships;
  • is administered by a sponsoring facility (like a hospital or nonprofit health agency); and
  • provides primary health services to children.

They're a straightforward and effective means of providing crucial services, such as preventive dental care, to students who have few other options. Thanks to the ACA, the Department of Health and Human Services expects to award approximately $100 million for about 200 school-based health center construction grants this fiscal year.

H.R. 1214, which now goes to the Senate, would end the entire effort.

It's another battle in Republicans' ideological war against improving our health care status quo. When the ACA became law just over a year ago, Republicans immediately said they wanted to "repeal and replace" it with some other plan yet to be determined. We're still waiting for that plan. In the meantime, they've not only voted to repeal the entire law, they've decided to spend weeks debating and voting on a series of smaller bills that roll back, one by one, the many advances the ACA makes in our health care system.

They already know these bills won't be embraced by the Democratic majority in the Senate. Passing them is a way to satisfy their base – even when it means eliminating funding for clinics and health centers that increase care for children and students.

These aren't just about healthy children, as important as that goal is – this is about the thousands of jobs all over the country these centers would create, including at the Sunset Community Health Center right here in Southern Arizona. If this bill becomes law, Sunset's application will have been for nothing, no jobs would be created, and no children would get improved medical care.

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The ACA fully pays for its improvements to our health care system. This isn't about cutting costs. It's about not wanting to admit the law has a lot of good provisions that will make peoples' lives better. Republicans have been on similar crusades against Medicare and Social Security for decades, and now they've thrown the ACA on the pile. Even if it means spending the next year and a half of the 112th Congress fighting a lost battle, they mean to take up the people's time by "sending a message."

Instead of offering its own solutions for providing more and better child health care, the Republican majority has decided its plan is to cross its arms and say "no." No matter how they want to dress it up, this is an irresponsible decision.

Unfortunately, it's one in a long line of irresponsible decisions they've made since coming to power. During the two-week Congressional recess that ended at the beginning of May, House Republicans all over the country went home to find their constituents weren't happy with the House vote to pass a budget that ends guaranteed Medicare benefits to retirees.

While they've since tried to backpedal, voters aren't interested in explanations – they're interested in results. If the House Republican budget became law, the result would be the end of the American retirement system in favor of bigger profits for health insurance companies. I oppose that outcome, and so does the overwhelming majority of the American people. So what have Republicans done? Pushed ahead anyway.

As I said before, they're on a crusade against programs they don't like, and they're not letting public opinion or the needs of working families get in their way. If the vote against school-based health centers is any indication, they truly don't care who suffers as long as they get their way. When it comes to children's health, we need to start drawing lines between partisan politics and simple public interest.

U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva represents Arizona’s 7th Congressional District.

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