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Critical Condition: Community Health Care On The Brink Of Lapsing

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Sandra Wong was at Community Health of South Florida (CHI) Wednesday being treated for her diabetes and all the complications that come with it. She is among a half million Floridians, alone, who receive treatment at community health centers.

"I used to have my private insurance, and then it went up in January to $1,200 a month," Wong said.

So she goes to CHI for low-cost service.

Democratic President Lyndon Johnson created the community health care program more than a half century ago and it has always had bipartisan support. Republican President George W. Bush expanded it. But now with a president distracted with ball players and the national anthem, and a Capitol Hill in gridlock, $7.2 billion in federal funding to community health is set to expire at the end of the week.

"This will mean a cut in health care services for a lot of low-income people, people who actually need health care," said Chief Operating Officer Blake Hall of CHI. "In every town."

If funding isn't renewed, the group Health Care Advocacy estimates 51,000 medical jobs will be lost, 2,800 centers will close and 9 million patients will be left twisting nationwide.

"If we didn't exist to take care of these patients, they would be, the same patients, going out in the community getting other people sick," said Dr. Saint Anthony Amofah of CHI.

Amofah said community care patients would also turn to hospital emergency rooms for routine care, a huge expense that would be passed on to taxpayers in the case of public hospitals, or to paying patients in the way of higher bills at private ones.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) District 23 said Wednesday, "We cannot allow this vital program with longstanding bipartisan support to languish even one day. Congress should not leave town this weekend without getting this done."

Sandra Wong now pays a little over a hundred dollars a month for medications that used to cost her more than a thousand dollars a month, on top of her then whopping insurance premium.

"This is a blessing," Wong said of CHI's medical center. "One of my medications came out to be free."

Her blessings, and those of millions of others, may now be on the brink.

Advocates are urging citizens to call or email their representatives in Washington and let them know that funding for community health care should not be allowed to lapse.

To get contact information for your members of Congress U.S. Senators and the White House, click here.

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