Reps. Pressley and Davis, Senators Sanders and Warren Lead 165 Members of Congress in Calling for Billions in Community Health Center Funding to Tackle Coronavirus Pandemic

March 20, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) led 165 lawmakers in calling on House and Senate leadership to dramatically increase long-term funding for community health centers (CHCs) in the third coronavirus legislative package being drafted by Congress and address the immediate economic and public-health emergency needs caused by the pandemic.

 

“Given the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the members of Congress write, CHCs should receive “the highest levels of funding, consistent with or surpassing those outlined in the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act.” That legislation provides CHCs with 10 percent annual funding increases over five years—nearly $7 billion more than flat-funding proposals being considered—expanding care to 10 million more Americans by 2024 in comparison.

 

“Community Health Centers are at the frontlines of this crisis,” the members of Congress note, “providing medical care and testing for over 29 million low-income people. It is of utmost importance that CHCs receive the long-term and robust resources necessary to meet the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable communities, especially as they work to test and care for patients during this unprecedented public health crisis.”

 

CHCs—a network of 1,400 facilities in all 50 states and U.S. territories—provide medical, dental, and mental health care, substance-abuse treatment, and low-cost prescription drugs for 29 million people. Their patients disproportionately include “communities of color, with African Americans making up more than one in five CHC patients,” the members of Congress added.

 

In addition to calling for 10-percent annual increases to community health centers in the third COVID-19 response package, the lawmakers stressed the need to assist medical professionals to tackle the pandemic, calling for increased funding for the National Health Service Corps and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) Program, which provide scholarships and loan repayment to 10,000 clinicians and trains residents in community-based ambulatory patient care centers.

 

The full text of the letter is below and can be found here.

 

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader McConnell, and Minority Leader Schumer:

We write in the midst of this global public health pandemic, as the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) is rapidly spreading through communities across America, to ask you to take urgent action, without delay, in reauthorizing critically needed funding for our nation’s community health centers (CHCs). Community Health Centers are at the frontlines of this crisis, providing medical care and testing for over 29 million low-income people. It is of utmost importance that CHCs receive the long-term and robust resources necessary to meet the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable communities, especially as they work to test and care for patients during this unprecedented public health crisis.

We have been encouraged by the House adoption of $10 billion in program and capital improvement funds for CHCs as part of H.R. 3, the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act as well as recently appropriated funding for CHC’s included in the emergency supplemental package that was passed and signed into law on March 6th. However, given the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, we cannot afford to wait until May to reauthorize CHC funding. CHCs, facing increasingly dire financial and operating margins, have recently called for $3.2 billion in emergency aid to keep their doors open and weather this crisis. We must ensure that CHCs can adequately operate with peace of mind about their financial stability in the days and weeks to come. It is for that reason that we respectfully request that, in addition to further emergency funds, any reauthorization include the highest levels of funding, consistent with or surpassing those outlined in H.R. 1943/S.962, the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act, which is cosponsored by over 100 House Democrats. We also urge you to ensure that these funds are distributed to CHCs as soon as possible.

Last October, 88 lawmakers sent a letter requesting long-term and robust funding levels for our nation’s CHCs, as well as support for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) programs. It is our hope that you will work with us to secure the long-term vitality of these programs.  

As you know, CHCs provide essential preventive and primary medical, vision, dental, and mental health care and low-cost prescription drugs to millions of patients on a sliding-fee scale in every state and territory in America—many of whom would not receive health care otherwise. CHCs disproportionately serve communities of color, with African Americans making up more than one in five CHC patients. Additionally, CHCs serve as hubs of economic activity in thousands of communities across the country, saving our health care system more than $24 billion per year and providing hundreds of thousands of good jobs.

Despite the vital role CHCs have played in tackling the biggest public health challenges of our time, CHCs have remained chronically underfunded. Proposals that would freeze funding for these programs pose a substantial risk to the millions of patients that depend on CHCs for their health care, particularly during a public health outbreak as severe as COVID-19, and could leave more than 3 million people without access to quality and affordable providers and 44,000 clinicians and staff without jobs. It is crucial that any deal to reauthorize CHCs, at a minimum, include annual funding increases as outlined in H.R. 1943/S. 962 in order to expand services, rather than cut them.

Furthermore, increased funding over five years consistent with or surpassing H.R. 1943/S. 962 will not only allow health centers to keep up with a growing and increasingly aging population and skyrocketing medical costs, but also provide health centers with the stability they need to train and recruit providers. Increased funding will allow our nation’s CHCs to provide continuous health services for all who need it.

It is for these reasons that we reiterate our urgent request that Congressional leaders reaffirm their commitment to these vital programs – as the House did through passing H.R. 3 – by incorporating a reauthorization that fully funds the Community Health Center Fund for five years with 10-percent annual increases in the third COVID-19 response package. We also reemphasize the importance of providing strong funding that supports and expands the NHSC and THCGME programs. Together, the CHC, NHSC, and THCGME programs are the foundation of primary and preventive health care across this country.

We look forward to working together to fulfill our longstanding and shared commitment to protecting and expanding health care for American families, ensuring the long-term stability needed for CHCs to deal with this crisis, and mitigating any harm caused by this global health pandemic.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  

 

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