The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Jan. 29 held a hearing titled, “Access to Care: Health Centers and Providers in Underserved Communities.” The hearing focused on the Sept. 30 expiration of mandatory funding for Community Health Centers (CHC), Teaching Health Centers (THC), National Health Service Corps (NHSC), and Indian Education programs, commonly referred to as the “primary care cliff.”
In their opening statements, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) discussed bipartisan legislation they introduced that would extend funding for CHC, THC, NHSC, and Special Diabetes Programs for five years at their current funding levels (S.192). Chairman Alexander noted the hearing was to “hear about how the community health centers program is working and how to ensure 27 million Americans can continue to have access to quality health care closer to their homes and at a more affordable cost.” Ranking Member Murray emphasized how the funding extension would “give health centers greater confidence they can recruit the professionals they need, and medical students, residents, and others greater confidence in their decision to work in an underserved community.”
During her testimony, Medical Director of Family Medicine at Unity Health Care Andrea Anderson, MD, FAAFP, discussed how the NHSC Scholarship Program is “only able to fund 10% of current applications” and “less than half of NHSC Loan Repayment Program applicants.” To fully fund all NHSC applicants, Anderson recommended a systematic doubling of the current funding for the NHSC while also endorsing S. 192, as well as the Community Health Investment, Modernization, and Excellence Act of 2019 (S. 106, CHIME Act), introduced by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), which would reauthorize the NHSC for five years with a $15 million increase for the program each year.
CEO of the Cherokee Health System Dennis Freeman, PhD, and HealthPoint CEO Thomas Trumpeter, spoke about the importance of funding increases for Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training program to fight the opioid epidemic in their communities, when asked by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). In his testimony, Freeman also noted, “A couple of small but visionary federal programs, the Graduate Psychology Education program and the Area Health Education Center’s program, are leading the team-based training agenda and provide support for training of health professionals in settings serving underserved populations.”
The HELP Committee will Feb. 5 host an additional hearing focused on primary care, titled “How Primary Care Affects Health Care Costs and Outcomes.”