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Wicker Urges HHS to Provide Additional Support for Community Health Centers

Sen. Roger Wicker
Sen. Roger Wicker

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., recently joined a bipartisan effort to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to release fiscal year 2015 funding immediately for Community Health Centers. A portion of the funds were set aside for a potential lapse in funding for health centers. However, Congress extended funding earlier this year as part of a larger Medicare package.
The letter reads in part: “For half a century, Community Health Centers (CHCs) have been providing comprehensive primary health care and support services to underserved and uninsured patients nationwide. Investments in CHCs across the country have already helped provide health care, behavioral health, dental care, vision, and pharmacy services to more than 23 million individuals, yet demand for additional sites and services remains.”

In March, Senators Wicker and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., led a letter to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies requesting continued funding for community health centers.

In Mississippi, where the first rural community health center opened nearly half a century ago, more than 300,000 patients are served annually at 170 delivery sites.

In addition to Senators Wicker and Stabenow, cosigners of the letter include Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and James Lankford, R-Okla.

The full text of the letter follows:

The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Burwell:

As strong supporters of our nation’s Community Health Centers (CHCs), we want to thank you for your continued efforts to increase access to primary care and health services for all Americans. We appreciate the work the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has done to increase access to CHCs, and we urge you to utilize all of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 CHC funding available so health centers are able to keep up with the current demands for additional sites and services.

For half a century, CHCs have been providing comprehensive primary health care and support services to underserved and uninsured patients nationwide. Investments in CHCs across the country have already helped provide health care, behavioral health, dental care, vision, and pharmacy services to more than 23 million individuals, yet demand for additional sites and services remains.

As you know, in FY2015, the Health Centers Program received a total program funding level of $5.1 billion. This includes $1.49 billion in discretionary funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and $3.6 billion in mandatory funding from the Community Health Center Fund. If fully utilized, these funds could increase access to care for patients in every state of the country.

We understand that a portion of the FY2015 funding was allocated for the Health Center Program but left unobligated to support the program should Congress fail to extend the Fund before the end of FY2015. Congress has since extended funding for the Health Center Fund through 2017 as part of H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. This legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress, in part because of the stability and funding opportunities it provides CHCs. With that stability now in place, we hope HHS will allocate available funding as soon as possible.

We appreciate that HHS has already started to allocate some of the remaining FY2015 funds. Last month, HHS announced $101 million in new funding to CHCs in 33 states and two U.S. Territories. These New Access Point (NAP) awards will expand access to primary care for an additional 650,000 patients in 164 communities, generating an overall cost savings to the health care system. While we are pleased HHS has awarded these funds to increase access to care across the country, there are still more than 300 approved, unfunded applications pending from communities desperately in need of health center services.

We urge you to promptly award all of the FY2015 funding made available by Congress so new organizations may gain “health center” status through additional NAP grants and existing health centers can expand their organizations to address demands in their communities.

Sincerely,

Senator Roger Wicker Senator Debbie Stabenow
Senator Tammy Baldwin Senator Sherrod Brown
Senator Shelley Moore Capito Senator Mark S. Kirk
Senator James Lankford Senator Bernard Sanders

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