By Katy Caldwell – Originally Published in the Houston Chronicle on March 14, 2017

Like every other health care provider, we have a case of the jitters when it comes to the coming changes to the U.S. health care system. The Affordable Care Act will be repealed and repaired; elections have consequences. But changes to the law – and the House of Representatives just released its replacement proposal Monday – could negatively affect Houston’s community health centers and the patients we serve.

Both Republicans and Democrats have favored the nonprofit model of care in the past. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said recently that community health centers play a “vital role.” “I think it’s imperative that we retain them or improve the delivery of care in that area,” he said during his confirmation hearing.

More than 70 nonprofit health centers in Texas provide primary care, OB/GYN, pediatrics, behavioral health and more to medically underserved areas, totaling 1.2 million patients annually, regardless of their ability to pay.

Nationally, our model of care saves the entire health care system $25 billion, in part by keeping non-emergency patients, like those with a cold or broken leg, out of the costly emergency room.

And in part by offering preventative care. One of our patients, Beverly Bryant in Houston’s Fifth Ward, would not be here today, she says, where it not for ACA insurance, which enabled her to get a well-woman exam by a Legacy doctor who caught her breast cancer early.

Recently, Houston-area health centers issued a joint letter to the Texas congressional delegation urging them to retain two key, bipartisan elements of the ACA: ensuring that pre-existing conditions remain covered by insurance and that children remain on their parents’ plan up to 26 years old. Both are included in the new House proposal.

What’s also included in that proposal, alarmingly, are cuts to Medicaid, which helps our most vulnerable patients: children, pregnant women and the disabled. This means fewer of these populations would be able to afford insurance and go to the doctor. Such a scenario would be especially bad for Texas, already the nation’s capital for the number of uninsured.

Plus, the existing Medicaid program is far from financially extravagant. According to the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, Texas health centers see more than 7 percent of the Medicaid population but receive less than 1 percent of Medicaid funding.

Recent news coverage across Texas has conveyed the deeply personal stories of cancers found, tumors managed, infectious diseases treated people were able to afford seeing a doctor under the ACA. These heartwarming stories must not turn into heartbreaking ones if Congress moves too quickly in finalizing its legislative package, despite the pressure from some quarters.

There is nothing more important than a family’s health, and patients need plenty of runway to make financial adjustments to the new insurance products.

Voters won’t care if this gets done in March or July.

We’re hopeful Congress will protect an innovative, cost-effective and patient-centered model of care that is actually working.

Caldwell is CEO of Legacy Community Health in Houston, Beaumont and Baytown.