Community Health Centers were born out of the ideals embodied in the Great Society legislation pushed through by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and the anti-poverty ideals embodied in the civil rights movement. As the Kaiser Foundation reports:
Health centers are essential to the care of individuals with no health care at all or those on Medicaid. With the number of uninsured and underinsured Americans growing by the day, the current network alone can not provide access to all those who need it. Many factors contribute to the need for increased federal money for community health centers, including:
Health centers rely heavily on Medicaid dollars to fund their operations; Medicaid accounts for over one-third of community health centers’ total operating budget. In addition, community health centers get funding through the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill (Labor HHS bill), but these funds contribute less than one-fourth of the needed costs to allow these centers to provide care to their communities. The stimulus package signed by the president earlier this year committed over $2 billion to the expansion of community health centers. This will help, although not solve, the growing need for health services to the uninsured and underinsured.
Looking to the future, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) hopes to serve 30 million people by 2015 (more than doubling Kaiser’s estimates for currently served individuals). The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that a nearly 50 percent increase in service providers is needed over the next few years to continually serve the current population. A combination of incentives for doctors and health care service providers, along with increased federal funding, is desperately needed for health centers to merely maintain the level of care they have provided their communities thus far.
To better understand the critical role that community health centers play in our safety net, we strongly urge you to visit or call your local community health center and speak to someone about the work they do there and their needs to better care for the underserved.
In January 2009, the focus of Congress and the President turned to universal health care for the over 45.7 million Americans who are currently uninsured, and reducing health care costs. With the White House symposium on health care and the regional forums taking place all across the country, health care is now at the top of the nation’s legislative priorities for 2009. Suggestions are streaming in from members of Congress, as well as average Americans, about how best to fix this massive problem. While nothing has been produced as complicated as the 1,400 page document President Clinton’s advisors put together in the early 1990s in the last attempt to make health care a priority, there is a large amount of data and opinions swirling around about how best to fix this health care crisis.
Some, including President Obama, have called for funding community health centers, which disproportionately care for the poor in our society. Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) introduced a bill with the backing of Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and 21 other cosponsors that will increase the federal funding of community health centers. Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC-6), the majority whip, has introduced identical legislation in the House. The Access for All America Act, S.486 and H.R.1296, would authorize $8.3 billion a year for the expansion of Qualified Health Centers from the current number, just over 1,000, to 4,800 centers across the United States. The bill also addresses the need for doctors and health service providers by increasing the National Health Service Corps budget to $1.2 billion a year, a ten-fold expansion of current funding. These figures may seem large; however, they account for less than 1 percent of total health care expenditures in the U.S. and pay for themselves by reducing medical expenses by 41 percent for patients of community health centers over those patients who receive care elsewhere.
Currently the House of Representatives Health Tri-Committee bill creates a new Public Health Investment Fund (PHIF) which will allow funds to be allocated beginning in fiscal year 2010 of $1 billion, increasing over the next several years to $4 billion dollars by fiscal year 2014. While the bill passed through the Energy & Commerce Committee ends there, the other two committees of jurisdiction have allocated possible funds of up to $6.4 billion by 2019. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee has authorized approximately funding of $3 billion in 2010, increasing incrementally to $8.3 billion by 2015. Subsequent years will be funded according to inflation and patients served from 2016 and beyond. In addition, both the House Tri-Committee bill and the HELP bill will include significant funding to expand the National Health Service Corps.
TAKE ACTION: We ask you to continue to call or write your members of Congress and urge them to support the expansion of Community Health Centers. In addition, ask them to reach out to members of their party’s leadership to make sure that Community Health Centers are included in the final health reform bill voted on by Congress. See our April Domestic Action and the information below about contacting your local community health center to learn more about their important work. You can also use our House and Senate online actions in support of expanding Community Health Centers.
Reaching out to your local health center is important in gaining a better understanding of their needs, struggles and successes. When you can assess your local health centers you can efficiently advocate on behalf of their needs. Not only does it give you a greater understanding on their behalf but it also gives you a personal connection to the issue. To find your local community health center: http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/. In addition, you may want to reach out to your state/regional primary care association: http://www.nachc.com/nachc-pca-listing.cfm. If your group has the time to reach out to your local community health center(s) before the conference, you will be able to share those local stories and statistics during your Hill visits.