U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker joined with a bipartisan group calling on the Senate leadership to support reauthorization of community health center funding.
Sixty-seven senators on Monday signed a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer expressing support for community health centers and requesting reauthorization for the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF), which was allowed to lapse last September.
The CHCF supports the 21 community health centers with 187 sites in 70 Mississippi counties. The facilities provide primary and preventive care to more than 280,000 Mississippians annually.
“Community health centers serve a vital function, providing affordable health care to our nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” wrote the senators. “They provide quality medical, dental, vision and behavioral health care to more than 27 million patients, including 330,000 of our nation’s veterans and 8 million children, at over 10,000 sites nationwide.”
“Without extension of the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF), community health centers will lose seventy percent of their funding,” the letter continued. “This will result in an estimated 2,800 site closures, the loss of 50,000 jobs, and approximately 9 million Americans losing access to their health care.”
The CHCF expired on Sept. 30, 2017, jeopardizing access to care for patients and making it difficult for community health centers to adequately plan for everything from staffing needs to securing loans for capital projects.
Congress last month extended the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six more years as part of a short-term spending bill signed by President Trump. But operators and advocates of community health centers felt they were left hanging when their needs were not addressed in the bill.
“Health center advocates and other supporters are continuing to emphasize with congressional leaders the critical need for health center funding to be renewed ASAP to avoid severe consequences to health center operations and their ability to serve patients, especially during a major flu epidemic and opioid crisis,” said Amy Simmons, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Community Health Centers, in a statement to TheHill.com last year.
The House of Representatives on Monday night released legislation addressing the problem as part of a proposed spending bill. The legislation, known as a continuing resolution, includes a two-year extension for community health centers. It would also avoid a partial government shutdown on Feb. 8 by funding federal government operations until March 23.
Under the community health center provisions, the continuing resolution includes supplementary awards to help community health centers increase access to primary care services by expanding the use of telehealth. Cochran and Wicker have promoted this policy in legislation they’ve authored, including the CONNECT for Health Act.
From staff reports